Every year members of the Tomball Police Department prepare their vehicles to travel to Walmart with lights and sirens.
No, it's not a shoplifter or something similar. It's a caravan of police vehicles traveling to the store to take area children on a Christmas shopping spree, thanks to the department's Shop with a Cop program, held Dec. 16.
22 police vehicles were led by a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro convertible that held Blue Santa, a Santa dressed in blue to pay tribute to the traditional color worn by police officers.
"They went to lunch at McDonald's first and then headed into the store for a $200 shopping spree," said Tomball Police Chief Robert Hauck.
Hauck said the program is completely funded through community donations and for the last few years has been aided by a $2,000 grant from Walmart. The program is in its 13th year and has taken 199 children on shopping sprees worth a total of $60,000.
Hauck said the event brings the department together and the employees of the department look forward to it every year.
"Many of our officers bring their own families so they can share in the joy it brings to these children," he said.
That joy is what makes the effort worth it, according to Hauck.
"Rick Grassi (a Tomball police captain) had his daughter and my daughter helping him with the young girl he was assigned to," he said. "They were helping her find what she wanted when they learned that she has been battling cancer. It really affected both of the kids to the point that they were still talking about the girl later."
Hauck said that it is also not uncommon for shoppers to hand the officers money for the program, while they are shopping with their assigned child.
"The heart of this community is so great and is a huge part of why this program has been so successful," he added.
Officers also brought joy to many elderly members of the community, as they sent Blue Santa to 12 skilled nursing facilities and to Kindred Hospital as well. This has been an ongoing event since 2004. Members of the Tomball Volunteers in Police Services program play the elves and help to coordinate the program with Sgt. Rebecca Carlisle.
"I look forward to this every year," Carlisle said.
"It's amazing to see the entire Christmas spirit come to life," Hauck said as he prepared to head into another facility. "They hear the bells, see Santa and to watch their faces light up is amazing. Here it is my birthday and I could have received no greater gift than to see these people smile."
The Blue Santa visits occur over a period of two days and Hauck said that by the end, they will have visited with more than 1,000 people, every one of whom gets a photo with Santa and a stuffed animal.
"Many times when we go the next year, these folks have their animals from last year out to show Santa that they still have it," Hauck added.
If you would like to donate to either program, call the Tomball Police Department at 281-351-5451.