Christmas morning is filled with happy times from many a childhood memory. But with a troubled economy and families all across America barely scraping by to afford necessities, this Christmas might 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, known as “Santa’s Toy Brigade,” kicked off fundraising for its toy escapades Oct. 27 at the Newton County Fairgrounds with an event featuring Louisiana Zydecajun superstar Wayne Toups, Flint Thompson, and local artists David Lavender & Company from Jasper. Event organizer and Toy Brigade president Melanie Smith said the event raised roughly $4,000 for the group’s mission, but she hopes upcoming fundraisers will help raise much more.
“We have several events coming up to try to subsidize the first event,” Smith said, adding that a recent boot drive brought in about $2,000 toward the Brigade’s $10,000 goal. “Last year, we didn’t have to do all this fundraising since we raised enough with our concert. But it takes us about $10,000 to cover all the kids. We’re going to watch the sales and hit Black Friday like everybody else does. We know the economy is bad, but we’ve been blessed with what we’ve got.”
Smith said the volunteer fire department is selling T-shirts, raffle tickets for the Dec. 15 raffle of a 6-foot giant stocking filled with toys and goodies, and will host a toy drive on Dec.14 at the Fire Hall, which will also double as a good spot for youngsters to come get pictures with Santa.
“We are also selling Santa-Grams,” Smith added. For $5, patrons can have Santa hand-deliver a gift in anticipation of the holiday. A benefit dinner at Three Flags in Bonweir is scheduled for Dec. 2 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., and Smith said the event is sure to be a crowd favorite.
Smith said her group typically provided for about 200 children to have a Christmas, but the Toy Brigade goes beyond the 200 to try and reach all the community’s children and even the elderly.
“The most fun we have is Dec. 22, with ‘Traveling Santa.’ We go all over town and give toys to every child we see standing on the side of the road,” she said. “We do that all through our neighborhood. Later in the evening, we go to the nursing homes and senior living areas and give them all a gift.”
Smith said any help that could be given would be appreciated.
“Shampoo, personal items … we give baskets to the elderly,” she said. “Really, anything people can give to help is put to good use. It’s just something we do because we know a lot of them have no family or nobody.”
Smith said the group can always do more when they have more. Donations are still being accepted, and donors can call Smith at (409) 594-3407 or mail contributions to P.O. Box 1292, Newton, TX 75966.
Santa in Blue
The Beaumont Police Department “Santa-in-Blue” program collected roughly $4,200 and 39 bicycles from its most recent fundraiser, held Nov. 10 and 11. The “Stars Over Texas” Softball Club hosted the Santa-in-Blue Bicycle Roundup Softball Tournament at the Ford Park Softball Fields with about 60 teams from Texas and Louisiana competing in the annual tournament.
Competing teams donated either $75 or a new bicycle as part of their entry fee.
Beaumont Police Department “Santa-in-Blue” program spokesman Sgt. Rob Flores Jr. said the program is the oldest law enforcement Christmas gift program in the area — starting nearly 25 years ago when a group of midnight shift officers took it upon themselves to buy, wrap and deliver Christmas gifts to a family they found during a call for service that had no plans to exchange gifts or decorate for the holiday because they could not afford it.
“This all came out of one officer’s concern for a family,” Flores said. “Now, the public knows there is a need, and they really pull out to help.”
Another “Santa” fundraising event in the works includes the 14th annual Blue Santa Toy Run, held by the Blue Knights Texas XIX for the children of Beaumont. This year’s event, to be held Saturday, Nov. 24, will have riders kicking off their quest at Cavender’s Boot City in front of Parkdale Mall and ending at Cowboy Harley Davidson on the Interstate 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.
Flores said once the gifts are collected, “elves” from Groves Middle School will assist in wrapping the presents.
Christmas in Port Arthur
Port Arthur’s Blue Santa 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.”
He said even local schools are getting in on the giving, 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 St. in Port Arthur, give 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.
And beyond …
Many of the area’s Santa in Blue programs operate out of the public’s view, and anyone who wishes to nominate a family in their community can call to find out if a program is available to help. In Orange County, call (409) 883-2612; in Jefferson County, call (409) 835-8411; in Hardin County, call (409) 246-3277.