The Edmonton Police Service Blue Santa program is celebrating 25 years of helping Santas Anonymous with families in need.
“Santas Anonymous is such a unique charity that delivers much more than just gifts, they deliver hope and joy for families, so it has been incredibly rewarding to support such a worthy organization over the years,” says Superintendent Robinder Gill.
Blue Santa began in 1997 after a conversation between Santas Anonymous Director Gary Draeger and new EPS Constable Robinder Gill about how volunteers felt unsafe delivering gifts in certain neighbourhoods. If the gifts could not be delivered, then some children would have to go without at Christmas.
Constable Gill immediately saw an opportunity for EPS members to assist and recruited his squad mates to volunteer their coffee or lunch breaks to deliver Santas Anonymous gifts within Southeast Division.
The idea of police officers helping Santa deliver Christmas gifts quickly caught on with the membership and the initiative became known as “Blue Santa.” Because it was so well-received, Blue Santa expanded to the entire southside the following year, then citywide the year after.
While Blue Santa helped provide support to families, it also provided an opportunity for police officers to have more positive engagement with vulnerable communities. People typically expected the worst when police showed up at their door, but were quite surprised when police arrived with Christmas gifts. These special deliveries showed officers in a different light, and helped change perceptions and break down barriers.
Superintendent Gill saw the value of the Blue Santa program come full circle while investigating a homicide. “The victim’s brother recognized me from Blue Santa and shared how meaningful that Christmas was for his family. During what was the worst nightmare for them, those memories alleviated their pain and grieving, and reminded me that these simple acts of kindness can leave a positive impression on a family years later.”
There was something about sharing the spirit of the season that touched the hearts of families and police officers alike, not only creating lifelong memories, but inspiring further acts of goodwill too. Some officers recounted their own experiences receiving Santas Anonymous gifts and food hampers as children or single parents, and appreciated the opportunity to give back to the community through Blue Santa.
Now 25 years later, Superintendent Gill continues to coordinate the Blue Santa program in partnership with Santas Anonymous, and more than 2,000 officers have helped deliver gifts to over 8,000 households in need.
“The longevity of the Blue Santa program is a testament to the many frontline members who continue to volunteer year after year without hesitation,” says Superintendent Gill.
“Being there for the community in their time of need, regardless of the circumstances, is why we became police officers.”