He wasn’t wearing a white beard or red suit, but Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic got a chance to play Santa Wednesday, giving away bicycles for needy children in a program that will benefit nearly twice the number of families as last year.
Some 200 bicycles will be given away by sheriff’s deputies this Christmas season, and about 79 families will benefit from the generosity, officials said.
Last year the program benefited 43 families, who received the bikes through personal applications and referrals from churches and social service agencies. Hall County Sheriff’s Capt. Ramone Gilbert said Sheriff’s Citizens Law Enforcement Academy participants, along with court officials and sheriff’s employees, raised more than $7,000 to buy the bikes, most of which were purchased at Wal-Mart at a special bulk rate provided to the agency.
“The citizens academy is the driving force in keeping this going,” Gilbert said. “This year it’s been phenomenal.”
In the Hall County Courthouse basement, where the sheriff’s court services division is headquartered, the tire rubber of dozens of shiny new bikes gave the halls a distinctive smell.
“You smell them before you see them,” joked Hall County Sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Strickland.
Karla Medellin, a homemaker on a tight budget whose husband works in construction, came by the Hall County Courthouse basement Wednesday to get bicycles for her three children, 8, 7 and 4.
“I really appreciate this” Medellin said. “This is a very good thing for all the parents.”
As for her kids, “They will be very happy, because they all wanted a bicycle, but with three kids it was very hard to get one for all of them.”
Medellin said she was also grateful that the sheriff’s office included the Hispanic community in the program, noting that it fostered good will and a more trusting relationship with law enforcement.
“It lets Hispanic know they can help you not only with this problem, but with many other problems,” Medellin said. “They get closer to the sheriffs and police and communicate more.”
Cronic said being able to be Santa for a day “feels great.”
“Particularly making children’s Christmas a little special, it probably does us more good than them,” Cronic said. “It’s really what the season’s all about.”