Thursday, April 24, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Operation THUGS play Santa

25 xmas 1

Samayah Bartholomew, 5, is given a new scooter from an elf as her brother Lorenzo, 6, watches during a Christmas celebration at the Bridge to Life Center in Fairfield, Wednesday. The gift giveaway was organized by Operation T.H.U.G.S. "That's the scooter I wanted," Samayah Bartholomew said. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

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From page A3 | December 26, 2013 | Leave Comment

FAIRFIELD — Larry Bluford wore a T-shirt with the words “I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ Jesus” — and the CEO of Operation THUGS spread that message Christmas day around Fairfield.

The Harvest Unit Gathering Souls, an evangelical ministry of Christians including people who once had ties to gangs and drugs, helped provide gifts to 43 children at the Bridge to Life shelter operated by Mission Solano and later handed out hundreds more gifts on Fairfield streets including Phoenix Drive.

Cheers came when Santa and his elves walked just after 10 a.m. Wednesday toward the Matt Garcia Home for Women and Children at the shelter.

“Lord, it’s all about you,” Santa said before gifts including hula hoops were handed out.

Schteka Hall and her two children were among the scores of people present and Precious, 2, and Mister, 3, later wheeled out on their new tricycles.

“I say, ‘God is good,’” Hall remarked. “I’m very grateful.”

Teresa Courtemanche, the mother of the late Matt Garcia, said the Christmas gift scene was amazing and she felt blessed to witness it.

Liberty Church, Mt. Calvary Baptist, Harvest Church and Living Water Deliverance helped make the event possible, Bluford said. A sign at Bridge to Life thanked the businesses Costco, Papyrus, Sams Club and the Nugget for their support.

Ryan Garrett, who helped Bluford start Operation THUGS four years ago, said the Christmas charity effort has grown.

“It’s amazing to see how big it’s gotten and how much the community has gotten behind this,” Garrett said. “They see the value.”

He said he’s been in situations where he had nothing and is happy to see kids have gifts for the holiday.

“It gives me so much hope,” Garrett said. “I can’t even describe the feeling.”

David Derf, 35, of Fairfield who is a minister known as Wordsmith, portrayed Santa and later said nothing is more rewarding.

“What greater joy can you get,” he asked, “than to serve youth who are in need.”

One of the elves assisting Santa said her family has gone to Bridge to Life for years to help and afterward holds its own Christmas gathering to recount the best moments from the morning.

Chelsea Ojeda, 18, of Sacramento, a student at Woodland Community College, said this year it was seeing the kids when they open their presents.

Along Phoenix Drive at around noon Erica Garcia, 23, stood with her 18-month-old son and watched as dozens of children gathered for Christmas gifts.

Garcia, who was visiting her mother, praised the evangelical ministry.

“It’s just an act of kindness for them to come out here,” she said.

Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or rmccarthy@dailyrepublic.net.

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