The sounds of children gleefully taking in the holiday spirit swirled around Gregory Gonzalez Thursday at the Wallace Middle School gym.
As Gonzalez stood on the hardwood floor, his gaze centered squarely on a little girl with small, white bow perched in her hair.
That child, his niece, Lily Laredo, was experiencing one of the first Christmases that didn’t involve a myriad of treatments in the hospital.
Two years ago, Laredo was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia. Laredo’s family was informed her disease was finally in remission earlier this year.
So, Gonzalez watched as Laredo joined her siblings and cousins as they collected gifts they received as part of Kyle’s Blue Santa program.
Gonzalez, who has helped care for his sister’s children while Laredo was in the hospital, said the program was a blessing. It offers a chance to bring the holidays to the 10 total children staying in his family’s home.
“With our limited budget it is hard,” Gonzalez said. “This lets the kids get some kind of gift. With so many kids in the house, we needed a little help.”
Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett said the Blue Santa Program, which has been going on for 17 years, allows the department to fundraise in order to help area families in need.
Kyle’s Blue Santa program annually distributes to children presents that range from bicycles to “simple things of life,” such as clothes and shoes, Barnett said.
The program also offers families a food basket that includes canned goods and a ham or turkey.
Briana Brecher, Kyle animal control officer and organizer for Blue Santa for the past 8 years, said the program includes the assistance of several local for-profit and non-profit organizations.
Those include Kyle Chain Reaction food pantry, which provides canned goods, and H-E-B and Hays County Brown Santa, which provide the ham or turkey. Blue Santa also receives help from the Kyle Police Citizens’ Academy, which volunteers time to help fundraise.
Brecher said the 2017 Blue Santa program provided 42 food boxes for 60 Kyle area families. Additionally, the Blue Santa program provided gifts for 176 children and raised $4,500 for bicycles this year.
The program also helps the police department build a relationship with the community. It also offers aid to residents on a year-round basis, and not just in times of need.
But Barnett said seeing children receive their gifts is a “heart breaking, but also heart warming” sight. He said families’ lists include many things that other residents take for granted.
“We see things their children are wanting that are the staples of life,” Barnett said. “Socks, shoes, t-shirts and things for them to sustain a happy life.”
For some, Blue Santa is a way for their children to have a holiday season.
Kyle resident Alysa Cardena said she applied for her family to participate in the Blue Santa program, despite reservations from her daughter, a single mom of five children.
However, as she and her husband are both disabled and her daughter is the sole breadwinner, Cardena said it was diffiuclt for their family to make ends meet.
“It’s awesome,” Cardena said. “This is something wonderful. For the community to do this, it’s very heartwarming.”
Kyle resident Sonya Morales said she applied with Blue Santa to help bridge a rough financial patch her family was having.
Morales was excited to see that her daughter would be able to obtain a gift for the holidays.
“With my income, it helps to have a gift or two so she’ll have something to look forward to on Christmas,” Morales said.
For Kyle resident Abby Gibson, obtaining help from Blue Santa was an unexpected endeavor. In the past, Gibson had donated money to benefit the program.
Gibson said she was thankful the program is there and available for her children when they needed it. It motivated Gibson to possibly help out in the future.
“I think it’s incredible the community offers something like this for people who might not be able to the best they can for Christmas,” Gibson said. “It’s special.”