‘Blue Santa’ project lights up families’ Christmas

Kerrville Police Department officers Sgt. Jonathan Lamb and Sgt. Chuck Bocock, left and right, and KCPAAA volunteer Brenda Smith (center) display some of the toys and games donated by citizens to the Blue Santa program.

When Blue Santa and the “elves” who work with the Blue Santa project met with about 27 area families that include 60 children recently, the families’ Christmas holidays promised to be merrier for the experience.

“Blue Santa” is an annual project planned and carried out by volunteers from the department’s Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association and others, as Santa’s volunteer “elves,” jointly with the Kerrville Police Department.

This year this event is more than 30 years old in the Kerrville community.

The CPAAA members have taken over the fundraising and organization of shopping for a long list of children over the years. The organization has 501c3 status for donors and fundraising. And they are working with Sgt. Chuck Bocock and Sgt. Jonathan Lamb in KPD.

Brenda Smith, coordinator again for this year’s holiday aid effort, said they help children from ages birth through 13 years; and started their fundraising efforts and planning with the application process from mid-October to just before Thanksgiving.

For those who would like to donate a toy or two, this year the decorated and identified donation boxes are being placed in the following locations: Kerrville Police Department lobby, 429 Sidney Baker; Central Automotive, 1600 Stadium Dr.; Crenwelge Motors, 301 Main St.; Five Star Rental and Sales, 1809 Junction Hwy.; So Fast Printing, 229 Schreiner St.; UPS Store, 317 S. Sidney Baker (close to HEB South); and Vision Source, 708 Hill Country Dr.

Smith said all the donation boxes should be in place following Thanksgiving and will be at those locations until Dec. 16.

Family registration process

Families were invited to apply to be part of this annual gift distribution project by completing an application form and waiting to be notified if their families qualify.

Smith said the application form asks for information that includes:

• a family’s income;

•  expenses;

• whether the children are on Medicaid and SNAP;

• if they live in Kerrville or Kerr County;

• a birth certificate for preschoolers and proof of school enrollment for older children;

• who else lives in the same residence;

• any special circumstances;

• sizes for children’s clothing;

• favorite colors and styles.

“Sometimes the parent or parents are taking care of their own parents too, or a special-needs child; or are single parents, or the guardians may be the grandparents or even the great-grandparents of the children they’re applying to help,” Smith said. “And if they have specific wants or needs for a child, we try to fulfill them if we can.”

She said when they registered the families, they asked the adults/parents what they thought each child would like to receive.

“We try to follow their requests when we go shopping,” Smith said. “We ask for the clothes sizes for each child to get them at least underwear, socks, pants and tops, and a jacket or coat.”

She said each volunteer “shopper,” including some Rotary members, has guidelines on prices, and when they are shopping, they can look for a dress for each girl if there’s enough money, and/or a shirt or two for each boy. Many of the clothes are bought at Belk department store.

They also start with some “price brackets” on the cost of toys.

She said they pass on the shoe-size information to Trinity Baptist Church for the “First Blessings” projects.

They take the application forms, and vet and cross-check each family with the Salvation Army and other aid organizations, so the Blue Santa project is not duplicating aid to the same family, she said.

Exceptions are made if a family includes a child age 14 and up; and the Salvation Army is helping other children through age 17 this year. The Blue Santa volunteers help kids from birth to 13-year-olds.

After cross-checking this year, they are shopping Dec. 7-8 for about 60 children in about 27 families for the children’s clothing and “fun stuff.”

“Our total applicants were down in numbers this year and we don’t know why, except we didn’t do any face-to-face interviews this year because of the virus precautions,” Smith said. “Under usual conditions, whole extended family groups would come, and it was very crowded.”

“Our shopping is based on the amount of money we have raised,” Smith said, adding they carry the clipboard full of the families’ applications to make sure they buy correct sizes, colors and the kids’ “wants” as much as possible.

At Belk Department Store, she said volunteers determine the best sales on children’s clothes, and use what coupons they can.

To provide new shoes, Smith said they are cooperating again this year with the recent “First Blessings” shoe giveaway event offered among area churches.

For toys, they will again primarily shop in Wal-Mart’s toy department; though depending on the children’s requests, Gibson’s carries some of the more “old-fashioned toys.”

Distributions are ‘drive-throughs

In past years after the shopping, the volunteers met at a designated storage site at Ronnie Bock’s RV Sales and Service; and wrapped everything or used a lot of gift bags while sets of new clothes were on hangars, and grouped in numbered plastic bags. But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their distribution.

This Dec. 12, Smith said the distribution at Ronnie Bock’s will be “an unprecedented drive-through.” While Blue Santa will be near the arriving vehicles to wave to the children and wish the families “Merry Christmas,” they regretfully had to cancel allowing each child to sit on Blue Santa’s lap, handing out refreshments and having a craft area for the children. Parents and families will be expected to stay inside their vehicles.

To make this revised distribution work, Smith said the shopping volunteers will be accompanied by “shopper elves” who will put each child’s gifts in one numbered bag; and then all of one family’s smaller bags into one big bag. That way they should have each family’s gifts organized for the drive-through.

And this year they are not having a “gift-wrapping” event where volunteers provide the labor. This year they are giving each family an assortment of gift wrapping and tags for the parents/adults to do at home before Dec. 25.

Everything families pick up should be marked with the number assigned to them, so what they take home matches the holiday wishes and sizes of clothing for their specific families.

Registered families are being notified when to go on Dec. 12 to pick up the holiday gifts for the children. But Smith expects this drive-through will be finished faster than previous years’ events.

Smith called past events a celebration that included Blue Santa and refreshments for all, the last as much for the many volunteers as for the visiting families. (There will be some food and drinks for the Blue Santa volunteers on Dec. 12 this year while they “work.”)

“It’s also very important that each family get food for their holiday dinner. The local Rotary Clubs provide enough food items for donations to be given to each of the families,” Smith said, “and they will be there to help, too.”

“We expect a lot of volunteers for distribution day each year. Even if some of them couldn’t go shopping with us, they love to see the kids and how excited they are,” Smith said.

Smith said they get donated toys as well as cash contributions; and on Dec. 19 they would be giving gifts to 75-100 children at the Doyle Community Center holiday event, to families registered by the Doyle staff, again a drive-through for health and safety. Other deliveries will be to the K’Star Emergency Children’s Shelter, and the Parenting/Pregnancy Resource Center.

“When K’Star has extra toys and other items, the staff gives them to children there on their birthdays,” Smith said. “We give some of the toys and presents to the Hill Country Crisis Council shelter for battered women, too, because some of them come with their children. And we get referrals for added children and families from the police officers at other times of the year, if the officers encounter situations during their duties. They can get some gift items from Sgt. Lamb at the station or ask a Blue Santa volunteer to take something. The Police Department likes the community outreach.”

For more information, contact Brenda Smith by calling the KPD at 257-8181 and leaving a message for her.

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