The working relationship between Lake Elsinore educators, law enforcement, community leaders and residents was apparent Thursday at Chili’s on Central Avenue during the biannual Cops for Kids night.
The event featured uniformed deputies from the Lake Elsinore Sheriff’s Station and Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Explorers bussing tables and serving patrons dinner. In return, customers were asked if they would like to leave a donation for the nonprofit Cops for Kids, which raises money for needy Lake Elsinore Unified School District students.
Most patrons did, because most live in the community and were either teachers, district officials, friends and family of law enforcement, or community leaders.
There’s a “built-in network” in Lake Elsinore, said Cops for Kids President Tom Thomas. “Lake Elsinore still has a small-town feel. A lot of people ask, ‘What can we do to help?'”
Thursday night’s event will raise around $3,000, according to Thomas, who scurried from table to table chatting with familiar faces and carrying a wad of envelopes stuffed with donations.
“The money really goes to where it should – right to our kids,” said Thomas, who also serves as an LEUSD governing board member.
In addition to patron donations, Chili’s also kicks in a portion of sales proceeds from the event.
Chili’s Managing Partner Jeff Root said giving back is part of the company’s mission statement.
“We want to invest in a community that invests in us,” he said. “Of course we see increased business from this, but any increase goes to them (Cops for Kids). We make zero off this.”
Lake Elsinore Sheriff’s Station Captain Dave Fontneau was busy serving hungry eaters Thursday, but he took time to talk about the event’s importance. In addition to raising money for a needy cause, the event gives the community a chance to mingle with law enforcement in a way it might never do otherwise, he explained.
“It’s a great opportunity to interact in a positive way,” he said. “It gives us a chance to show it’s not just about taking bad guys to jail.”
Fontneau said his station works to partner with the community to help break down barriers and keep the lines of communication open. He pointed to uniformed deputies who were smiling and chatting with customers Thursday night.
“All of us work hard to make it happen. It’s a team effort,” he said of the connection between the community, its leaders, school district officials and law enforcement.
In total, approximately 15 sworn deputies and 20 Explorers volunteered their time Thursday night.
Thomas, who also serves with the Rotary Club of Lake Elsinore, said the Chili’s event costs nothing to put on, and bringing in customers was easy: He used his connections to spread the word.
“It’s a natural fit. Rotary gives back in scholarships, Cops for Kids helps needy students, and the district wants to make sure kids’ needs are met, ” he said.
Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce President Kim Cousins was also at Thursday’s event. He said for those who can afford to give, Cops for Kids is a “no brainer.”
“I grew up in Orange County. I’m always amazed at the generosity in this Valley,” he said.
LEUSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Passarella was at Thursday’s event, too. He said the bringing together of like-minded community members is a great way to raise money for a good cause.
“There are a lot of needy people who would probably like to be here tonight, but can’t afford to,” he said. “We can. Why not give back?”