City, county organizations aim to serve families in need during the holiday season
Blue and Brown Santa programs in Georgetown and Williamson County, respectively, work to make sure every family in the city or county can give their children gifts for the holidays.
Volunteers distribute applications to families who show signs of financial hardship. For example, students on free- or reduced-lunch programs in area school districts may be given an opportunity to sign up.
Applications are available at the Georgetown Police Department or Williamson County Sheriff's Office.
Both Blue and Brown Santa volunteers will be distributing toys to residents approved for the program on Saturday, Dec. 14 in Georgetown. To learn more about how to volunteer, visit www.bluesanta.georgetown.org or www.wilcobrownsanta.com.
GPD has provided toys to children of low-income families in the city for more than 15 years.
The deadline for submitting Blue Santa applications was Dec. 5, and as of press time the program had collected applications from more than 600 families, with more than 1,700 children.
During the past 15 years, the amount of donated toys and funds, as well as volunteer hours, has increased, according to GPD Volunteer Services Director Linda Lipscomb.
"Last year we had a little over 1,800 [children served]." Lipscomb said. "The year before that we had over 1,900."
Members of the Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association make up the bulk of volunteers who organize, sort and distribute toy donations.
"If everyone [in the department] stopped doing police work, we wouldn't be able to [coordinate the program]," Blue Santa Coordinator Lt. Jim Seals said. "[The volunteers] run this massive program."
Donations of new toys make up about two-thirds of the items that are distributed through the Blue Santa program each year, Lipscomb said, while monetary donations are used to purchase the rest.
Community volunteers are mostly used to host toy drives to benefit the program, Lipscomb said, because CPAAA volunteers take care of the organization and distribution of toys.
"It makes it easier to have people working on that behalf while we're trying to fill the need," she said. "Our objective is not to have to go buy toys at all."
Boxes distributed to families at Christmastime include five age-specific gifts for each child listed in the parent or guardian's application. Volunteers will also provide wrapping paper, if parents wish to wrap the gifts for their children themselves.
Volunteers within the Williamson County Sheriff's Office oversee the operations of Brown Santa, which serves families throughout Williamson County.
For more than 20 years, the Brown Santa program has held toy drives and distribution days for families in Williamson County.
The deadline for applications was Dec. 6.
Community volunteers are what really keep the program running, said Capt. Mike Gleason, president of the Brown Santa board.
"Outside the department is an infinite number [of] volunteers," he said. "Volunteers come to us. There are always churches, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and neighborhoods and clubs —they're always looking for a project."
In addition to volunteer hours and toy donations, the sheriff's department raises money for Brown Santa operations with events such as a golf tournament in the spring and a haunted house in Georgetown at Halloween.
"We have a week out of haunted house mode before we go into Brown Santa mode," Gleason said. "[The applications] really start coming right after Thanksgiving."
Proof of residency is the only requirement Brown Santa has for residents to benefit from the program's services. By mid-November, Gleason said they had already received about 40 applications.
In past years, Brown Santa has provided toys for more than 700 families in the county, which leads to totals of about 1,700 children, said Williamson County Communication Coordinator Kathi Wysong.
"Each child [in a family] usually gets a toy, a book and a stuffed animal," Gleason said. "Then we send the parents home with some wrapping paper to distribute and wrap as they see fit."
Georgetown Blue Santa, 512-930-2747, www.bluesanta.georgetown.org
Williamson County Brown Santa, 512-943-1313, www.wilcobrownsanta.com