The Coronado family was greeted by a Santa in a blue suit, a dog mascot dressed as the jolly old elf and dozens of law enforcement officers Tuesday night at Walmart on Loop 281 in Longview.

Sabryna Coronado, 7, and her brother, Jose Coronado, 6, grinned ear to ear at the Longview Police Department’s Blue Santa event as they met Santa Claus and a dog mascot from the Longview Animal Care and Adoption Center.

“To be able to help out (a family in need) this time of year, especially after the year we’ve had, is just amazing,” said Blue Santa Chairman Officer Luke Altman. “We like to bring Christmas cheer.”

This year, the police department’s Blue Santa Program shook things up because of COVID-19 and held an event called Shop with a Cop, letting selected children in need throughout the community go on a $100 shopping spree for Christmas. The children are referred by officers throughout the year.

“As officers are out in the public and interacting, they see a family to be in need and they fill out a referral form,” Altman said.

The goal every year is to serve 100 children, but this year, about 135 will be served from 46 families. The Blue Santa Program also works with the Elf Coalition.

“We used to purchase the gifts and then wrap the gifts and deliver them, but it’s a struggle,” Altman said. “This kind of program is easier to manage and function, and it makes sense. Also, the kids get to pick what they want.”

Altman and the other officers seemed to prefer this new format.

“Last year, I was picking out makeup for 14-year-old girls,” Altman said, laughing. “But they’re not limited to just toys. Like some people bought fishing poles (Monday during the first Shop with a Cop event), and others bought clothes. It starts tugging on you sometimes when a kid just wants a pillow or a blanket.”

Police Chief Mike Bishop said the program is a great opportunity for all involved.

“(Altman) has done a great job organizing this year,” he said.

This year, Altman asked other local agencies to help during the shopping events Monday and Tuesday. Department of Public Safety troopers, Longview Animal Control employees and Longview Fire Department staff helped the children shop.

Longview Police Officer Glenn Derr, who was dressed in the blue Santa suit, said the joy on the children’s faces is worth the sweat in the suit.

Each child is paired with an officer to go shopping.

“That way they can interact with the police officer and have an enjoyable experience,” Altman said.

And the experience is just as enjoyable for the officers.

“Oh, this is wonderful,” said Blue Santa Vice Chair Officer Syndi Howell, walking back to help her next family. “Just watching the joy on their faces when they get to pick whatever they want.”

Sabryna was able to get about a dozen toys and hair bows, including several LOL Surprise Dolls and other items.

“They’re cute and come with accessories,” Sabryna said, excited to fill the cart pushed by DPS Trooper Keifer Bounds.

“Some choices will need to be made,” Bounds said jokingly about the items filling Sabryna’s cart.

At one point, Sabryna picked out an artificial nail kit and handed it to her mother, saying “Mom, this is for you.”

“Nope, today is for you,” mother Janie Coronado said.

Coronado said this was a good experience for her children, and she likes the program.

“It’s marvelous,” Coronado said. “I didn’t know if they would be able to do it this year, and for them to be able to do this is great.”

Sabryna held up her unicorn sleep mask.

“I can’t wait to put this on when I go to sleep,” she said.

Monetary donations are accepted year-round to support the program. Checks can be made out to Blue Santa Project, and all Blue Santa donations can be dropped off at the Longview Police Department.

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Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.