More sponsors stepping forward to make the holidays bright means that the Santa Cops program operated by the Katy Independent School District Police Department will distribute gifts to 1,100 children this year, said Liz Loocke, police services specialist.

Bags of clothes and toys filled the large meeting room as well as two hallways early this week, said Loocke. That surpasses last year’s record of 1,072. The year after Hurricane Harvey hit that number was 917. Prior to 2017, the program,which began in 2002, on average reached between 500 and 600 children, she said.

The program started in-house and served about 30 students 17 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.

Elementary schools supplied names of students for the program by the end of October. An email to sponsors went out in mid-November. Sponsors delivered their gifts to the police department by Dec. 6 for distribution Dec. 12-14.

Carol Gallagher, Bear Creek Elementary school counselor, talked of tough times for families. “There’s still a number of families recovering from Hurricane Harvey.”

Some staff members at the elementary sponsor children in the program who need the clothing, shoes and jackets. “One family who received help in the past sponsored a family this year,” said Gallagher. “So, sometimes you give and sometimes you receive.”

“Santa Cops brings them some joy and lets them know we care about more than just their academics,” added Gallagher who thanked sponsors and others who make the program possible.

Counted among sponsors is Landry’s League which shopped for 235 kids this year, said Loocke. “Methodist Church Katy does 40 every year,” she said. Sponsors are very generous, she added.

Santa’s Cop and Angel Tree are two programs that members of Katy First United Methodist Church participate in at Christmas through the Children’s Hope Fund, said Bud Ramser. At the request of several church members who work in the Katy ISD, the FUMC began helping Santa Cops about 4 years ago. Participation in Angel Tree goes back to 2000.

A Christmas tree in the narthex has paper “Angels” and “Santa Cops” ornaments that list children’s toy requests and clothing needs. “Our members pick up one or two, purchase the presents and return them to the church. We sort them out, add a few things to make the families have roughly the same amount of items, and wrap them up,” he said. “We were able to take care of about 117 kids this year between Santa Cops and Angel Tree. At the gift wrapping party, Ramser said about 655 presents for kids were boxed and wrapped.

“It really is humbling when you see the need and so many people that are willing to help. It’s what Christmas is all about,” added Ramser.

The need in the Santa Cops program is determined by elementary counselors who meet with teachers to identify students who could use help, said Loocke. At secondary schools, siblings of those students selected at elementary schools also are eligible to participate in the program through age 12, said Loocke, who was named the department’s support service employee of the year for 2018-19.

The district opened two new schools in August: Leonard Elementary and Adams Junior High. Santa Cops’ list includes, for example, 81 kids from Adams Junior High, said Loocke.

The computer upgrade the program got last year makes coordinating the program easier. Loocke explained that sponsors can sign up on computer and select the children for whom they will purchase gifts. Each family is assigned a number and each child in a family is assigned a letter. When sponsors deliver their gifts to the police department, Loocke and her helpers put them in numeric order. Each family participating in the program receives a letter that includes their number, said Loocke. Families need to bring that letter with them when they pick up their gifts. Gifts not picked up are distributed to school counselors to be given to families.

Donated bags are examined to make sure they’re comparable between siblings when a family has more than one child on the list. “We try to make sure they’re evened out,” said Loocke. Groups who hold toys drives donate to Santa Cops to make that possible. “After we’re all finished we give the extra toys to Texas Children’s West Campus,” she said.

She points to large packages and says those gifts are for two children in a family. “Most (of the gifts) are clothes,” she said. “I won’t take clothes away from a child. I think that’s wonderful.”

Toys that show up frequently on children’s wish lists include Star Wars Legos and Beyblades.”Barbie is always popular,” said Loocke. “Craft kits are popular especially with young girls,” she added. Princess items, Toy Story and board games also are popular.

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