In a tradition stretching back seven years, the McPherson Police Department is once again gathering donations for its Blue Santa program.

Chief Robert McClarty said money was donated to the Blue Santa program by officers in exchange for being allowed to grow facial hair in November and December. Civilian staff also contributed and were able to wear jeans to work on Fridays in return.

"Here in the police department, we have raised $700," McClarty said.

That money will be pooled with other donations from individuals and organizations such as the McPherson Masonic Lodge to purchase items for McPherson families.

"We'll end up with around $3,000 or more to host as many families as we can who are truly in need," McClarty said.

Families are selected to be recipients of gifts from the Blue Santa program through a partnership with counselors at USD 418.

"This gives law enforcement some positive interaction with some truly needy families," McClarty said. "It's just our way of giving back to the community and I think it builds a good rapport with the community."

Some of the most popular items families are given include necessities such as coats, shoes, jeans and gift cards to buy groceries.

"We'll supply each family, generally, with needed clothing items for the children, some kind of toy or a fun item for that family that they can use — it might even be an educational toy of some sort," McClarty said.

The items to be given to families will be found and wrapped by members of the McPherson Police Department.

"We have a bunch of officers and staff that'll be doing the shopping," McClarty said.

The gifts will be delivered to families around McPherson sometime during the week before Christmas, according to Captain Mark Brinck.

"Last year we helped eight families (and) 14 children," Brinck said. "We have about 20 children lined up so far and expect to add more."

Donations of money or items are still being accepted by the McPherson Police Department.

"We have received a few things from people who brought in coats, games and some shoes," Brinck said.

Those items — along with any others that are donated in the future — will be given out to individuals who could use them.

"We'll find somebody who needs it," Brinck said.

The Blue Santa gifts elicit reactions of gratitude and excitement from families as they unwrap their packages.

"(There are) lots of hugs, lots of thank yous and a few tears here and there," McClarty said. "It's a phenomenal experience."

For more information about the Blue Santa program, call 620-245-1200. Donations may be taken to the McPherson County Law Enforcement Center at 1177 W. Woodside St.