Kids of all ages waited patiently with their parents in a Kashmere Gardens neighborhood in northeast Houston for a visit from Blue Santa. Houston Police Officer Horace Mann was dressed in a blue Santa's suit and riding on horseback. His "helpers" — also police officers — followed in a truck carrying dozens of bicycles and other presents.
One-by-one, names of the kids were called to claim their gifts.
"Enjoy your bikes ladies, enjoy your bikes. Don't forget to put those helmets on."
After the children posed for a picture, Blue Santa had time for a quick chat.
"This is actually my first year of playing Santa. This is actually the first day I've ever put a Santa Claus outfit on."
PH: "You look like a natural."
Mann: "Well, that's a good thing. That's an excellent thing, excellent thing."
PH: "How man kids are the benefit here?"
Mann: "Probably gonna be thousands. Its thousands of children. A lot of the officers in the police department donate money out of their paychecks on a monthly basis, on a monthly basis, and it meets great needs like this. Doing the work of the police department, and sharing events like this with a lot of children."
The Blue Santa program began in 1984 when a police officer arrested a man for shoplifting. The officers found that the man was stealing children's clothing, so his kids would have a Christmas. His heartfelt story resulted in other officers donating enough money to buy toys for a dozen children. Mann says nothing beats watching the smiles on the kid's faces.
"It's a blessing and it's a joy, it's just a great opportunity to give back to the community, and I love children, and it's just a great opportunity. These are memories for a lifetime. You can't trade 'em."
Over 1,500 officers donate each year to the Blue Santa program.