By: Noelani Mathews | WCTV Eyewitness News
December 26, 2017
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- Many local kids woke up to an exciting surprise over the Christmas weekend.
Officers with the Valdosta Police Department escorted a cheerful Santa and helped him hand out Christmas gifts to local boys and girls.
It was a sight many residents said they like to see; neighborhood kids running towards police in excitement, instead of away in fear.
"Everybody thinks the police are the bad guys, but just look around," says one local mother.
Police officers swarmed Hudson Dockett on Friday, loaded with bags of gifts.
"They're like oh my gosh Santa. Oh my gosh," says Dan Robertson, a Hudson Dockett resident.
He's the father of four boys, all of whom came outside to see Santa.
"I feel it's a good thing because I'm from Miami, so we're not used to this," says Robertson. "I've been up here for five years and this is the first time I've seen this. They don't even do this down there, so this is really good for the kids."
All of his boys received a present. His youngest, Dylan, is now the proud new owner of a toy train.
"We've got people really helping us, especially the police with what's going on in the world. This is a good thing. They got Santa with the police, so that's a good thing," says Robertson.
"They saw the blue lights and heard the sirens. They were like uh oh, somebody's coming to get me," says Santa.
He says he remembers the response being much different four years ago when the program first started.
"Every time I hear them say 'hey Santa' or come up and smile or if I go 'ho ho ho' it just gives me a warm feeling in my heart," says Santa.
Like police, he says it's what's beneath the suit. Many officers are fathers, and even grandfathers, of local kids.
"I've given each of my grandchildren a bear and I see in their eyes love," says Santa. "That they knew I loved them and it's the same thing here. We love these kids."
The feeling was mutual for kids. 9-year-old Kearia got her very first Play-doh set.
I saw Santa and got presents," says Kearia.
From play sets to basketballs, officers say whatever the gift, the impact is even greater.
Residents say the best present was unseen and priceless; the feeling of community during a time of divide.
The police department spends thousands of dollars on the toys every Christmas. VPD says it doubled the amount spent this year.
A large portion of the funds come from the department's biggest annual event, "Shop with a Cop."