To understand what led 8-year-old Brandon and his mother to walk into the Redding Police Department recently with a $25 donation to Blue Santa for the second year in a row, you have to go back a few years to when Brandon was just 2.
Brandon has no memory of that time, but his mother, Lisa Butler, does. She had sought help from Women’s Refuge, a place that gave Butler and her then-preschooler shelter and food and assistance. Eventually, the mother and her son moved into a transitional housing facility with other women and children.
Enter the Redding Police Department’s Blue Santa convoy at the transitional housing location, were many of the children’s only previous experience with law enforcement is related to domestic violence 911 calls. Blue Santa is a Redding Police Department tradition that includes driving all over Redding to give toys to needy children whose parents might be unable to make Christmas happen for their children otherwise. Each year the Blue Santa entourage’s first stop is Mercy Medical Center’s pediatric unit. This year was no different.
Friday’s hospital visit took place about 8:30, and included officers who arrived via motorcycles, squad cars, and vans. The new police chief was there, as were officers, investigators, RPD chaplains and even McGruff the Crime Dog. Some officers brought their own children along to help, to drive home the point that there are people here in this town who endure debilitating poverty and strife, and how important it is to lend a hand, especially during the holidays, when some kids do without because of their families’ financial situations.
But back to Brandon’s history with Blue Santa. When he was 6, he was paid a visit a second time by Blue Santa again when it became known by the Blue Santa organizers that Lisa was still struggling, and might have difficulty providing gifts for her son.
Over the years, Lisa and Brandon got on their feet. Lisa got a job. She and Brandon moved into one of the units of an affordable housing complex, where Lisa gained employment providing in-home care for senior citizens. Meanwhile, even in the lean times, Lisa emphasized to her son that one day, they’d do what they could to live in a way that expressed gratitude for their good fortune.
“I’ve tried to tell him that there are people who are suffering more than we are,” Lisa said.
They donated clothes and toys to organizations that passed them on to needy families. And for the last two years, Lisa and Brandon have contributed money to the Redding Police Department, to help support the Blue Santa program that meant to much to them.
“I’ve explained to Brandon how fortunate we are, ” Butler said. “We could be living in a van, or not have shoes or coats in the winter.”
Still, need is relative, and when Bobbie Berg — fron the RPD’s Blue Santa program — learned that Lisa and Brandon were giving money to the police department at a time when the mother admitted it would be a lean Christmas. Lisa had explained to her son that Santa would give a bit less to Brandon this year because there were children who were in greater need than Brandon. Well, “elf Berg” passed on the message to Blue Santa (aka Dan Kupsky, retired RPD officer), and the Blue Santa team.
That’s how Blue Santa visited not just Brandon, but a slew of other children at their Redding complex Friday. When the children heard the sounds of sirens and saw the motorcycle cops and police cars and vans, they laughed and broke into a run to meet Blue Santa and his helpers who were all decked out in badge-adorned blue uniforms.
“I was surprised to see Brandon and his mom,”Bobbi said. “At first,I thought they might need help during the holidays again. Then Brandon, now 8 years old, handed me an envelope and said that it was to help the Blue Santa kids, just like we had helped him. His mom, Lisa, said that they were doing fine now, and that Brandon had saved his own money to give to buy gifts for children. I held it together just long enough to thank him and get back to my desk.”
Berg had mentioned to Brandon about Santa’s upcoming visit to his apartment complex. She told Brandon to keep an eye out for Santa, because surely Santa would recognize the boy. Unbeknown to Brandon, he’d be receiving a gift that day, too.
But Brandon (whom, by the way, would like to be a cop when he grows up) and the children weren’t the only ones who received gifts Friday. Berg said she received something, too: the satisfaction that comes from knowing that Blue Santa left a lasting impression upon a child.
“I guess I just want Brandon to be recognized for his sensitivity, compassion and grateful heart, ” Berg said.
“He was touched by something that hopefully, he will never forget, and in turn he is reaching out to others.They could never be a better affirmation of what we do.”
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.