Between budget constraints, staff shortages and the coronavirus pandemic it seemed all but certain that Blue Santa would have to be shelved for the holiday season, but instead a can-do attitude among the Turlock Police Department is bringing the jolly ol' elf back to the community.
"It's been a lot of work and re-thinking how we could do this in a safe way, while also being fiscally responsible," said Erika Grace, a crime prevention specialist with the police department, who is helping shepherd the operation. "We think we have come up with a way to make it happen."
Operation Blue Santa started in 2012 with the mission of providing toys and donated items to children and families in need. Key components of the operation were school and home visits by Blue Santa and presentations on crime prevention and safety. It also relied heavily on volunteers to go out on shopping blitzs and gather for gift wrapping sessions. But this year, COVID-19 safety protocols made all of that impossible.
Operation Blue Santa is held close to the department staff and they were thrilled when presented with an idea to make it happen this year, said Grace.
"It was a very positive reaction and people were glad to have that community connection," Grace said. "With this year we definitely need to spread some joy."
The program is operating a bit different this year. Instead of using volunteers to gift wrap, the program purchased gift boxes to put presents in. And instead of the delivering of gifts using overtime, officers will be making deliveries during their normal shifts, as time allows.
"We thought it was a great idea to have the officers deliver the gifts because it gives these children a positive interaction with police," Grace said.
The community response has been enthusiastic. The program already has sponsors for the families that have been referred to the program and now is mostly in need of monetary donations.
The original goal was to serve 25 families, but the outpouring of support has helped them meet the Christmas wish lists of 36 families, Grace said. People who sponsor families are given the pertinent information like sizes and likes and are asked to purchase whatever they can afford off of the list. Then Blue Santa comes in and fills in where needed.
Blue Santa will be making a few appearances around town, mostly at stores during sponsor drop-off events. Blue Santa will be donning a mask to go with blue uniform.
Those who are interested in sponsoring a family can contact Grace at email@example.com. Those wishing to make a monetary donation either by cash or check can mail them to the police department at 244 N. Broadway, Turlock, CA. 95380. Checks should be made out to the City of Turlock, with Blue Santa in the memo line. Monetary donations can also be dropped off at the police department, but people must call ahead first. Grace can be reached at (209)216-6879 Monday through Thursday. On Friday, people can contact Sgt. Steve Crawford at (209) 668-6503.