Volunteers Luciana Saldana and Daniela Gallegos dance to Christmas music as cars drive through the Winter Wonderland Christmas tunnel at the Imperial Sheriff’s Office south of El Centro on Monday evening, Dec. 20. | MEGAN JONES PHOTO
EL CENTRO — South Clark Road in El Centro became an unexpected oasis of lights leading to the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office that rivaled the lights of the Las Vegas Strip, if the Strip was a winter wonderland.
On Monday evening, Dec. 20, the Imperial Sheriff’s Office, its Sheriff’s Activity League and its Corrections staff volunteers and several other volunteer groups came together for some Christmas-themed love in the form of a drive-thru tunnel for the youths involved in the programs supported by the Imperial Valley Children’s Coalition.
Even coordinator Tina Garcia, crime prevention services supervisor for the Sheriff’s Office and executive director for SAL, said her love of Christmas inspired her to work to help set up the wonderland Christmas tunnel.
“This year, Brenda Scaroni, who also sits on the Imperial Valley Children’s Coalition, approached SAL and brought forth the idea of moving forward with the postponed tunnel event and we were happy to take on the project,” said Garcia, who explained that in 2020 SAL was going to have this tunnel event, but due to COVID restrictions, a decision was made to postpone.
Volunteers from Sheriff’s Office and inmate workers from both the men and women’s facilities came out and helped decorate and set up the collaboration with Kevin Jones, the expert tunnel engineer.
Haystacks donated by El Toro Export fit like Lego blocks atop one another to become pedestals for two 15-foot inflatable nutcracker soldiers who boldly stood guard at the opening of the wintry panorama.
On Monday night, Santa Claus handed out more than 300 goody bags and waved to the young children as they neared the entrance to the tunnel.
The children, which included those served by Coalition supported groups like Court Appointed Special Advocates of Imperial County and SAL, among others, stared in amazement ahead of them at the tunnel filled with decorated Christmas trees on snow-covered haybales under a canopy of different holiday images.
Volunteers from Christ Community Church of El Centro donated their time to supply a Christmas love vibe. Standing in front of an image of a cheerful Santa, Jenny Torrecillas, from Christ Community, was dressed in a Christmas elf outfit happily dancing and waving at the kids in the slow-moving vehicles. Not one vehicle passed that Jenny didn’t offer a lively holiday greeting.
“I love Christmas, so I wanted to share the cheer,” she said. “I help out with kids during Sunday school and sometimes it helps to be a little more animated to get them motivated, and I’m doing that here to help bring some fun and joy and share my Christmas spirit with the kids.”
Mariah Carey’s iconic, “All I want for Christmas,” comes on over the sound system as Jenny continued to dance and wave at the passing cars.
At the end of the tunnel was a group of caroling cadets from the Sheriff’s Explorer program request, there to remind the cars exiting the tunnel to turn on their lights before driving into traffic.
Coordinator Tina Garcia paused a bit to ponder when asked what she hoped the community would take away from such an event.
“Seeing the expressions on the kids as they go through is what we are here for. Especially in our line of work, it’s not always smiles that we get to see on these kids’ little faces,” she said. “It’s nice to give a little moment of that to each of them.”