Operation Blue Santa is underway in Wharton and with the recent outpour of donations toward the project, the Wharton Police Department (WPD) aims to spread Christmas cheer to more families than ever before.
The Christmas toy drive began as outreach between WPD and the community’s underprivileged youth.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic leaving many families financially struggling, WPD Lt. Ben Guanajuato predicts the area’s need will be greater than ever and is hopeful that with recent donations and money raised through fundraising, the organization will meet that need.
“The response we got with the pork steak meal fundraiser was unbelievable,” the lieutenant told The County Gin. “519 plates were sold, raising over $5,000. Then, with the $10,000 donation from the Mary Louise Dobson Foundation, we consider this as a blessing to the community. Because of COVID and people losing jobs, along with the hurting economy, the Blue Santa Project wants to be there to help as many families and kids as possible.”
Along with monetary donations from many local businesses and organizations, the WPD accepts toy donations at the department’s headquarters and various locations throughout the community.
“It’s all about giving back to the community. Some families are faced with having to pay bills and not having extra for presents and that’s why we do this.”
For Wharton Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year and veteran Blue Santa Project organizer, Makyla Monroe, knowing Wharton families and children will have presents at Christmas make long nights of sorting worth it.
“I have volunteered for about five or six years now and each year is as special as the last,” Monroe told The Gin. “It’s all about giving back to the community. Some families are faced with having to pay bills and not having extra for presents and that’s why we do this.
“Seeing the kid’s faces and their parent’s reaction to how happy (the kids) are to receive the gifts, just touches my heart every time. This also shows police officers in a way that is, ’not the bad guy’. It not only makes Christmas, Christmas for families, it builds trust with WPD and the community.”
Monroe also feels that the need will be greater than ever, noting, “I personally know families that are struggling because of COVID.”
She continued, “This year has been so tough for the community, but we are blessed with the large amount of donations we have received, which only means we can aim to assist more families.”
Monroe works as director of the Wharton Civic Center, which is the organization site and one application pickup and drop-off location.
“Sarah Lynch and I started organizing donations and applications last week. Each year, we try to fill the requests and group presents by family as the applications come in,” she told The Gin. “I will stay later after work to sort, just so we can get a jumpstart on things and also to see if we need to make special purchases or drop off a full donation box.”
Even though Monroe has received close to 70 applications thus far, she worries those finding themselves needing assistance for the first time are hesitant to apply to the project.
“I have seen families receive help one year and pay it forward the next by volunteering and donating because they were able to get through that struggle. We are here to help and absolutely do our best to not turn anyone away… We’ve been blessed, so let us bless you.”
She hopes that by spreading and encouraging families to apply through social media and word-of-mouth will ease that hesitation.
“I know some people who don’t wish to apply because not wanting anyone to know that they are struggling and just want to reassure them that we are here to help and do not judge,” Monroe said. “I have seen families receive help one year and pay it forward the next by volunteering and donating because they were able to get through that struggle. We are here to help and absolutely do our best to not turn anyone away.
“At some point in everyone’s life, they will be put in a tough financial position. I hope that those needing assistance this year will apply. We have a goal to gift presents to 200 families, or close to 600 children. We’ve been blessed, ”
Items that Monroe knows the project could need more of are those gearing toward teenage girls and boys.
“Every year we do try to get four or five presents per child,” she said. “One thing we find ourselves buying each year is gifts for the older children. We receive toys, but some items that are on the girls’ lists are makeup, bath sets and things like that. For the older boys, we see a lot of requests for sports balls, colognes and grooming sets.
“We will request Guanajuato or some of our volunteers to go purchase these, but those donations are greatly appreciated.”
Donations for the Blue Santa Project can be dropped off at the Wharton Police Department or at the following donation drop-off points: Wharton Civic Center; Fun Town RV; St. Christina’s EMS; Wharton City Hall; Better Solutions; Sacred Care Home Health; Unlimited Creations; TNT Western Wear; Don Elliott; Dr. Kieler, DDS; Pepsi Beverage Company; Affordable Pharmacy; Prosperity Bank; Schulz Insurance; Faith Christian Academy; St. John’s Lutheran Church; Dollar General in Wharton; Dollar General in Boling; Cutting Edge; Liz Tax Service and Insurance; and CommunityBank of Texas.
Applications will be accepted at the Wharton Police Department and at the Wharton Civic Center through Wednesday, Dec. 16.
For volunteer information or to learn more about the Blue Santa Project, visit the Wharton Police Department’s Facebook page or contact Lt. Ben Guanajuato at (979) 532-3131.