Blue Santa program still thriving

The Blue Santa crew gets set for the Christmas season rush. Left to right, the crew includes Martha Bailey (HPD Retired), SPO Alex Maciel, Sgt. Joshua Mungia, SPO E. J. Reyes, Sgt. George Smith (the Blue Santa), Sgt. Kurt Rogers, SPO Georganna Davis and SPO Angelica Sanchez.

HPD’s Blue Santa program, a community partnership that has thrived since its formation in 1984, is looking more like Christmas 365 days a year.

Currently, Blue Santa officers are picking up their bags of toys to be distributed to at least 10,000 children from needy families on Patrol beats between now and Christmas Day.

Blue Santa is run by two sergeants and five officers who work together to bag up the goodies and make sure each officer gets what he or she has funded with the 26 paycheck deductions in a year.

Senior Police Officer E. J. Reyes, the Blue Santa spokesman, said about 40 percent of the department’s officers are involved in the program. Reyes explained that a minimum deduction of $2 per paycheck gets the officer one bag of toys valued from $85 to $200.

Reyes said officers were picking up their bags at the old dispatch office on the second floor at 51 Riesner, a practice that will continue through Dec. 18, the designated last day for pickups.

“We shop in bulk,” he reported. “The number of toys in a bag has doubled this year. We will have 200 bikes in addition to the toys that go with that bag. Officers get more than their money’s worth.”

In addition to the officers’ donations, Blue Santa receives items from toy drives conducted by individuals, community partners and non-profits. The program also receives monetary donations from companies and individuals.

Reyes was excited to report that Blue Santa operates throughout the year, gathering toy and seasonal equipment and costumes at Easter, Halloween and other special occasions to be distributed at appropriate times.

Officer Tracie Mathews-Segura just joined the team.

“Our community partners donate household items and clothing that we can’t give out at Christmas time,” Reyes explained. “We collect these donations and work with non-profits to make sure families in need get these things.”

Blue Santa has its roots on Patrol. In the early 1980s a Patrol officer arrested a man for shoplifting. He told the officer that he couldn’t afford to buy presents for his children, prompting the arresting officer to tell his fellow officers the situation. They in turn donated money to buy gifts for these children. The obvious follow-up was that this wasn’t the only needy family with children, so the officers collected money to help another family.

The practice evolved into the Blue Santa program. One of its offshoots became the Blue Santa shopping event in which children who have written the best essays about the best ways Houston youths can build trust with HPD get a special shopping spree.

Reyes said no shopping sprees have been held since the covid pandemic – until this year. The spree will take place on Dec. 16 at the Walmart at 111 Yale. “We can’t wait to resume this great part of the Blue Santa tradition,” he said.

Members of the Blue Santa team are Sgts. Kurt Rogers and George Smith and Officers Reyes, Alex Maciel, Angelica Sanchez, Georgeanna Davis, and Tracie Matthews-Segura.