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Cops share Christmas with children

December 17, 2018

No one wore a red suit and hat or sported a white beard, but the spirit of Christmas occupied the police department of the Katy Independent School District in early December as a steady stream of visitors left the building with gift-filled bags.

Since 2002, the police department has operated the Santa Cops program, but this year it collected a record 1,072 gifts, said Liz Loocke, police services specialist and program director.

“It’s a blessing,” said Veronica Bautista, who came by the department Dec. 6 to pick up gifts for six children. It’s the second year the family has participated in the program through Bear Creek Elementary. Another family from Franz Elementary came to pick up Christmas gifts for a 7-year-old girl. By mid-day Thursday, more than 200 gifts had been given to participating families.

Bautista thanked Carol Gallagher, Bear Creek Elementary school counselor, for her support. A 27-year counselor, Gallagher said, “Needs have increased through the years, especially after Hurricane Harvey. We select families based on needs. We’re aware of many families who did not need help before need help now.”

“Counselors work with teachers to identify students in need,” explained Loocke. She receives those names and coordinates gift collection for the children. Parents supply a child’s age, gender and clothing sizes. Anonymous donations can come from groups/businesses that sponsor children such as Landry’s League, First United Methodist Church of Katy and Brazos Valley Credit Union, she said. The gift limit is $100. Nov. 30 was the deadline to donate wrapped gifts in large plastic bags and labeled with a number identifying the student recipient.

Every year each school is allotted slots in the program, continued Loocke. Schools that don’t have a need give their slots to a sister school for the holidays, she said. For example, Hurricane Harvey hit the Bear Creek area hard which may have had more needs than some other communities in the district of 80,000 students. Parents receive letters telling them when the gifts may be picked up. Some parents come with their kids to pick up the gifts.

Gallagher said she likes the fact that the Santa Cops program also provides clothing: pants, shirts, shoes and jackets to children in addition to gifts. “They are so excited when they come to school wearing new clothing or shoes. It’s a huge blessing to participate in the program.”

The department almost didn’t organize Santa Cops last year because of Harvey, said Loocke. But counselors encouraged them to move forward with more need than ever among some students. Last year’s gift total of 917 was a record until this year. Prior to 2017, the program on average reached between 500 and 600 children, she said.

The program started in-house and served about 30 students 16 years ago, she said. The goal: “To help kids in need in the district to have a really nice Christmas that they otherwise wouldn’t have,” said Loocke.

“One of the rewarding parts of my job is to call families and ask if this would be helpful to them,” Gallagher said. Families are grateful that their children will have something for Christmas, she added.

“Our community is generous and wants to help and do what it can to meet the needs of the family,” she continued. A new family at the school, for example, came too late to be included in the Santa Cops program, but several staff members will step up to help them, said Gallagher. Last year several children’s gifts came from a junior high orchestra or choir. “It’s awesome for our older children to participate and help younger students and to start a habit of lifelong giving.”

Gallagher thanks people who contribute to the program and encourages her students to write notes of appreciation to the police officers. As of Dec. 7, she said she already had received several thank-you notes with pictures drawn by students.

“It’s an amazing thing,” said a smiling Bautista as she left the building with gifts for her children. “It’s just amazing,” agreed Gallagher, who added, “It’s Katy ISD.”

karen.zurawski@chron.com

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