Christmas – a morning filled with opening presents and playing with the newfound toys and gadgets - are happy times from many a childhood memories. But, with a troubled economy and families all across America barely scraping by to afford necessities, this Christmas may not produce the same warm fuzzy feelings for children hoping to find something from “Santa” under the tree come Dec. 25.
Fortunately for kids in Southeast Texas, first responders and volunteer agencies from all over the region are putting in work now so that no child will have to go a Christmas without a visit from the man who is rumored to know when the youths have been “naughty or nice.”
The Newton Volunteer Fire Department and the Newton County Sheriff's Association, known as "Santa's Toy Brigade", kicked off fundraising for their toy escapades this past weekend with an event featuring Louisiana Zydecajun superstar Wayne Toups held all day Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Newton County Fairgrounds. Local artists David Lavender & Company from Jasper and Hellatonin from Newton opened the show, which attracted over 1,000 guests said event organizer and Toy Brigade president Melanie Smith.
“We thought it was pretty good for our first event,” Smith said. “We’re already starting on next year. We’re not sure of who the act will be, or if Wayne Toups will return, but Toups’ group was so wonderful to work with that I hope so.”
Smith said the event raised $21,000 “for the kids of Newton County,” more than double what the group has able to solicit annually for the last several years. Aside from ticket sales for the concert, the organization also raised funds from a motorcycle ride, auction and chili cook-off.
“That money will go a long way,” Smith said. Last year, the Toy Brigade assisted over 125 families and 300 children, she said. This year, she expects even more citizens to take advantage of the service the group is offering.
Smith said that she and her sister, Karen Adams, have been laboring in love for Newton County children to have a happy Christmas morning for about 18 years, as a continuation of a tradition started by their mother when the women were just children themselves.
“My mother w as always provided for us at Christmas, even though we wasn’t rich and didn’t have a lot to work with,” she said. “My mother would also give something to a family that had even less than we did, and that really stuck with us over the years.” Now with her mother passed from this life, Smith and Adams have toiled in her name for as many children as they can over the holiday season. “It keeps us in a happier spirit.”
Even with the enormous support shown at the concert fundraiser, Smith said the group csn always do more when they have more. Donations are still being accepted and donors can call Smith at (409) 594-3407 or Adams at (409) 383- 7261 to arrange a pick-up. Contributions can also be made through the U.S. Postal system at P.O. Box 1292, Newton, Tx. 75966.
Other “Santa” events in the works include the 13th annual Blue Santa Toy Run, held by the Blue Knights Texas XIX for the children of Beaumont. Group spokeswoman Kendra Monk said this year’s event, to be held Nov. 26, “this year will be just as big if not bigger” than those held over the past decade. The motorcycle run will garner funds and toys for the Blue Santa program, and promises to be a good time for riders of all ages.
One major change for this year’s for this event, which has always started at Cycle Pilot in Beaumont, will have riders kicking off their quest at Cavender's Boot City in front of Parkdale Mall and ending at Hooters on the I-10 feeder road.
Aside from the benefit of knowing event participation is supporting a worthy cause, those riding in the fundraiser are privy to free food and door prizes. Anyone wanting to participate in the Toy Run can log onto WWw.bkteXasXiX.org  for more information or to pre-register.
Port Arthur has also announced headway with the Blue Santa program. The city’s program has ballooned from the initial 20 children assisted during the first run to now reaching more than 800 youths annually. PAPD Officer Steve Flores said, “Our program continues to be successful because of the generous donations from local businesses, local civic organizations and the general public. Without this support, we would not be able to make this happen.”
According to him, even local schools are getting in on the giving, with Memorial High School and Port Neches- Groves High School already volunteering to help deliver Blue Santa presents to recipients. Anyone wanting to help give the gift of a good Christmas to Port Arthur youths can drop off donations at the police department, 645 Fourth Street in Port Arthur, directly to the Port Arthur Blue Santa account at the Port Arthur Community Credit Union, 3100 Central Mall Drive in Port Arthur, or by calling Flores at (409) 983-8600, ext. 2322.