“I want a dog,” she told him. “And a phone.”
“A phooone!” he replied, with a deep and practiced “Ho-ho-ho.”
On a normal day, Santa goes by Lorenzo Rivas and wears a firefighter’s uniform. This time of year, at the Blue Santa event, he wears the other suit as he and other first responders give presents and Christmas treats to families who live in poverty.
Just about every kid asks for one of three things, Rivas said: A cell phone, an iPad or an Xbox. But many of these kids make big-hearted requests too.
When Rivas asked another boy in line what he wanted for Christmas, the fifth grader responded “My family.”
“What about your family?” Rivas said. “Just for them to be safe?”
“Yeah, just that.”
“Well that’s what it’s all about buddy. God bless.”
Fewer families came to Blue Santa this year than anyone Wednesday could remember in the 12 years of the program’s existence. That’s positive, explained Capt. Tony Reyes, the Blue Santa organizer for Odessa Fire and Rescue, because it suggests people are doing better this year.
Still, 95 families qualified for the program through Catholic Charities, and police officers and firefighters gave more than 300 presents to children, from dolls and Legos for the younger kids to cosmetics and gift cards for the older kids.
The presents were donated and paid for primarily by employees of the fire and police departments, Reyes said. Local businesses and other organizations helped too, such as Dollar General, the Jackalopes and Permian High’s National Honor Society.
It was an Odessa police officer who started the Blue Santa event, but the department stopped participating about four years ago in a period of heavy turnover, said Cpl. Caleb Lacey, the OPD’s Blue Santa liaison.
But when the department’s Crime Victim Liaison, Andrew Thomas, sent out an email a few months ago suggesting the police participate in Blue Santa this year, Lacey responded enthusiastically, seeing an opportunity to make children happy and to project the right sort of image of a police officer.
“The most gratifying part of our job is when you go to a house and a little kid comes up to you and hugs you,” Lacey said. “Those instances are few and far between, but when it does happen, it’s a wonderful thing.”
So there he was Wednesday, giving a Pirates of the Caribbean toy to 11-year-old Mark Avila, wishing the boy in his wheelchair a “Merry Christmas,” before his grandmother took him to greet Santa.
Rivas plays Santa just about every year. Until they grew up, he brought his own children along as elves, and his captain said he brings his own suit.
“It’s just a blessing to see the kids,” Rivas said. “Especially when I talk to them in English and Spanish and they say ‘Whoa, he speaks Spanish’.”