Police group hosts Blue Santa event for special needs children (Video)
Dec. 12, 2012 at 6:12 a.m.
Updated Dec. 13, 2012 at 6:13 a.m.
After Elijah's parents plopped him down on Santa's lap Wednesday in a re-purposed portion of the old Memorial High School, his little hands curled around the man's white whiskers.
The 11-month-old was wide-eyed as the man in the billowing blue suit handed him an interactive picture book titled "Mary had a Little Lamb." A candy cane painted on his cheek, it was his first Christmas party.
"He wanted to eat his beard," Elijah's father Benny Martinez said, chuckling.
The proud papa was showing passers-by videos of Elijah recorded on his Blackberry. Elijah was born four months early, weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces and can be seen in the videos wiggling inside a hospital incubator.
"He's at an age, I guess, where everything he gets goes into his mouth. He was like, 'What is this white thing here? It's like a big 'ol marshmallow,'" Martinez said at the 2:30 p.m. Wednesday gathering. "We're really just amazed with him."
Elijah was one of about 60 kids who received a gift and a picture with St. Nick as part of a charitable collaboration between the Victoria Police Officers Association and Early Childhood Intervention. For the past 30 years, ECI has provided therapy to children with developmental delays or disabilities.
With more than 70 members, the Police Association has been collecting donations on and off for 15 years to buy toys for underprivileged children. They're on track to serve some 600 Crossroads kids this holiday season, Joseph Felan, the group's president and senior patrol officer, said.
Events like this help little kids realize police officers aren't the bad guys, he said.
"I think sometimes they're skeptical about the job that we have and the things that we do," Felan said, adding that's why Santa dons the blue rather than red garb. "Sometimes, we have to do things to family members or friends of theirs and they don't truly understand ... We want kids to know that any time they're in trouble or any time they're in need and need someone that we're here for them."
Margaret Parsons, the ECI supervisor, said 77 percent of the families they serve in Region 3, which spans 12 counties, are low income. She also said the children benefit by interacting with Santa in a low key environment.
"If they're medically fragile or if they've had a lot of medical issues, it's hard for them to do something big like the mall," Parsons said. "It's a chance for them to do what typical kids do."
Juanita Rubio's son Nathaniel was just itching to open his Fisher Price caterpillar - picked out especially for him by the therapists who work to loosen his tight back muscles.
"I'm very grateful," Rubio said, adding that buying the toy herself with five other children may have been tough on her budget.
Martinez meanwhile said he has to scale back decorations at home, as bright, blinking lights may give Elijah a seizure. He said Wednesday was a nice change of pace.
"Hopefully, things will change," he said. "It's amazing what they (the police officers association) do for the community. I salute them."