Santa Claus doesn’t always travel in a reindeer-drawn sleigh.
The jolly old elf made appearances in the days leading up to Christmas in the Midlands in an unmarked black SUV with siren wailing and lights flashing, in the back of a truck escorted by police and booming “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas” over patrol car loudspeakers, and in the bucket of a ladder truck supplied by Columbia firefighters.
In this place we call home, public servants go beyond the call of duty year round, but perhaps more than ever during the holiday season.
The Lexington Police Department teamed up with Heroes in Blue, Harvest Hope Food Bank and the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition to provide food for Christmas meals for each of the 85 families who live at Park North Apartments.
The police officers purchased more than 130 gifts, making sure that every single one of the more than 130 children at Park North would take one home.
“This event is about partnerships. It’s about people coming together,” said Heroes in Blue President Kassy Alia. “We are all in this together, and during this holiday season I can’t think of a better way to join together in celebration and love for one another.”
On the Columbia side of the river, the same joy was visible on the faces of the children who rushed out to meet Santa as their parents watched and officers on ATVs passed out candy to all.
Then, on Christmas Eve, dozens of children spending the holiday in a place they’d rather not be got a surprise.
The Columbia Fire Department brought Santa Claus to Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, lifting St. Nick in a bucket to the highest floors to wave and smile at the wondering eyes of the kids before going inside to meet them and pass out presents provided by the community.
The annual proof at the hospital that Santa can fly began with Capt. Chris Branham. Branham’s daughter, Rachel, was seriously ill seven years ago, and after her recovery at PHCH, Branham decided to find a way to give back and, with help from his fellow firefighters, began a tradition which brings smiles and happy tears every December.
“They basically saved her life, and it changed everything for us,” Branham said. “I am completely — well, I would do anything for this place.
Firefighters and police officers. Nonprofit employees and volunteers. None of these are rich people. All are busy. Many have families of their own. All took time and effort (and for many, hard-earned money too) to give to strangers this Christmas, simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Their efforts weren’t religious. They all simply share the belief that love is stronger than hate, and that love is what makes a community a great place to live.
They also showed children who might not have much to celebrate this season that police officers and firefighters do much more than put out flames and make arrests.
Sometimes, you see, Christmas lights are flashing red and blue.