For most of the year, Sgt. George Smith dresses the part of a Houston Police Department officer as he patrols the southeast part of the city.
The 44-year-old Webster resident undergoes a transformation around Christmastime, when he dons a blue-and-white Santa Claus suit and long white beard while delivering toys and doses of joy to children all across the region.
Smith has served since 2012 as HPD’s “Blue Santa,” making him the symbol and mascot of the department’s holiday toy drive, which helps thousands of Houston families in need every year.
“The belly, I’ve got,” Smith said with a chuckle. “The beard, they just (recently) started letting us grow facial hair, so I don’t know. We have to keep it groomed. I don’t think I could get the Santa beard unless they allowed us to grow it out.
“I’m a bald man, too,” he added. “But I put on the wig and the beard, and I think it looks good when I’ve got it all together.”
The folks at American Legion Post 560 in Garden Oaks, which has served as a Blue Santa donation depot for each of the last three years, think Smith is well-suited for the role and plays it perfectly. They helped select him as the District Officer of the Year for American Legion 8th District, Department of Texas, which serves active-duty military personnel and veterans in Greater Houston as well as the community in general.
Smith was recognized during a ceremony Tuesday night at Post 560, located at 3720 Alba Rd. The event was held ahead of National Police Week from May 9-15.
Catherine Mondy-Boyce, the historian for American Legion Auxiliary Unit 560, said Smith also will be up for a statewide award and potentially a national award. She said the American Legion’s officer of the year honor is bestowed upon a “well-rounded law enforcement officer who has exceeded the duty requirements expected of his or her position and has demonstrated a distinct pattern of community service coupled with professional achievement.”
“He’s the one and only Blue Santa for the whole city, meets all these kids and gives toys out,” Mondy-Boyce said of Smith. “We decided that’s above and beyond being a policeman.”
Mondy-Boyce said Smith has become a “holiday icon” in the Garden Oaks area as he usually picks up the toys that are collected by the local Legion post. Smith described himself as only one part of a department-wide effort.
He said most of the funds for the Blue Santa program come from participating HPD officers who donate a small amount from each paycheck during the course of the year while identifying children to help at the end of the year. Toys are purchased with the donated money, and toy donations made at places like Post 560 supplement the effort.
Smith said he is one of the officers who donates and also serves on the board of directors for the Blue Santa program.
“I’m really proud and grateful for it,” he said of the recognition. “I feel like there’s a lot more people that are deserving of that honor. But I’m happy to accept it for our program. We have such a great program, and anything that brings light to it is a bonus.”
Smith’s role as Blue Santa also includes appearances at community events, such as fundraisers and parades, and other places where kids want to see and interact with Santa. He said it’s fun to go around the city and try to “make people happy.”
He especially enjoys his visits to Post 560 in Garden Oaks.
“The Legion has been fantastic,” he said. “I love going over there and visiting with those people. Any chance I have to go visit, I’m happy to be there.”