APD’s ‘Giving Tree’ honors brave Bennie Hargrove

[anvplayer video=”5154478″ station=”998122″]

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For the second year, the Albuquerque Police Department made an effort to make the day a bit brighter for families affected by violent crime through its “Giving Tree.”

From this year forward, the giving tree will honor the memory of a young boy taken too soon, his bravery and ability to brighten anyone’s day.

With bags of gifts, and a few special helpers from APD, Santa brought cheer to an otherwise dark time for some families.

“This whole idea is just to give back, let people know the community cares about them, the police department cares,” said Terry Huertaz, a victim liaison manager of the APD Criminal Investigation Division. 

Because these families are in an unthinkable position, dealing with loss related to violent crime in Albuquerque.

“This small but token can make such a big difference in their pain and suffering that they’re going through,” said Huertaz. 

This is the second year of the department’s giving tree. Detectives nominated families, who got a combination of requested gifts, blankets and mittens, and food donations.

APD leadership joined Santa at 10 homes this year.

“Some of these families have hardly anything and some have a little more than others, but it’s where it’s coming from,” Huertaz said. 

And it’s who this program is named after. After a successful first year leaders knew the giving tree needed a special name.

“It needed to have a name that was meaningful and of course the spirit of a child, so it was a no-brainer it was gonna be chosen to be Bennie’s Giving Tree,” said Huertaz. 

Bennie Hargrove was shot and killed at Washington Middle School last year, while reportedly defending a classmate.

“He’s probably telling me right now I told you so grandma, I told you so,” said Vanessa Sawyer, Bennie’s grandmother. 

Sawyer says life isn’t the same for her and Bennie’s four siblings.

“We have a good day, we have a bad day.  We have an emotional day, we have a happy day,” said Sawyer. 

They were one of the first families to receive gifts through last year’s giving tree.

“I’m never gonna forget this as long as I live, when they came, I’m gonna say they came like three cars deep,” said Sawyer. 

Watching the pain leave her grandchildren’s faces was a priceless gift.

“It took their mind off of what they were going through and what they were feeling. Just completely blank, that was gone,” Sawyer said “Just for that moment, and it was a beautiful sight to see in their face. I had missed that.”

It’s a gift Vanessa and Bennie’s father figure – James Applewhite – hope other families can cherish this year.

“To have siblings that maybe their father or uncle or someone was tragically killed to be able to give presents to them, I think that’s an amazing thing,” said Applewhite. 

This is just one more way Bennie’s memory, and bravery, lives on.

“It’s a good way to remember him as a protector and to remind people that bullying is not the answer,” said Huertaz. “I wish I could tell him I’m proud of him, I wish I could tell him.”