Rio Rancho High School cheerleaders, left, wait with bags of gifts as Rio Rancho Police officers prepare to load the bags into the trunk and others greet the Montaño family during the drive-thru distribution of toys donated by the community Dec. 12 at the police department. Argen Duncan photo.

The Rio Rancho Police Department tradition of giving Christmas gifts to children who might not otherwise have them continued Dec. 12, with masks and a drive-thru format for COVID safety.
Community donations supplied 145 children in 59 families with gifts, said RRPD Lt. Richard Koschade.
“What we appreciate the most is our community,” he said, adding that local residents really support the drive and officers. “We couldn’t put on this without them.”
Deputy Chief Andrew Rodriguez said the toy drive normally provides for about 200 kids, but the tradition stayed alive during the pandemic.
Normally, RRPD hosts a Christmas party with McDonald’s meals and Santa to give out the gifts. The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying restrictions prevented it this year.
Instead, explained Detective Monica Casaus, each family was scheduled in one of six 30-minute time slots Saturday. When cars arrived, officers and Rio Rancho High School cheerleaders loaded gifts into trunks.
Each child received a wrapped gift immediately, and more unwrapped gifts in black bags for parents to wrap and give when they wanted, Casaus said.
Police Chief Stewart Steele handed out candy canes and McDonald’s gift cards that had been donated, while Koschade played Santa, minus the beard and fat stomach.
Casaus said the police department works with school counselors to find families who need and want the help. Officers also may hand out registration forms, and some families know about the program and call to register.