LIVINGSTON PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard gathered a large number of his employees to map out final assignments for the annual Sheriff's Christmas Crusade. Deputies and others came from all over Livingston Parish to deliver donated toys to families who had no gifts for their children.
While everyone was wearing their sheriff's office uniforms, there were bright red Santa hats and some holiday "deely-bobbers."
Deputies were told as they headed out the door they could contact the 911 dispatch center about toy deliveries, using the code word "North Pole."
"These deputies are here on their own time," said Sheriff Ard. "They're not getting paid to be here. They're here because they want to be here."
While everyone was still crammed into one room at headquarters, they recorded a Facebook video to thank everyone for their support during the difficult events of 2016. They also recorded a video of encouragement to send to Deputy Nick Tullier of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, who was wounded this summer in a police ambush shooting and is trying to recover from shots to the head and other parts of his body. He's in Houston at a rehab facility, and it's now known that he can understand what's being said to him. This year's Christmas Crusade will answer the wishes of more than 1,200 children and more than 500 families.
As officers left, they stuffed their patrol cars with garbage bags and had multiple gifts for each child and the address where the bag is heading. Sergeant Gene Higginbotham headed out towards Holden with his Santa bags. "I'm born and raised in this area," he said, as he steered one of the Sheriff's SUVs down a rural road, occasionally passing mobile homes. "And it means a lot to give back to everybody in this community," he added about the Christmas Crusade. "I know especially after all the events that have happened, just to be able to bring something positive, because a lot of times when people see us, it might be in a negative way. It always feels good to do something positive."
He gently approached each home, asked the homeowner to sign that the gifts were delivered, and left each family with the warmest wishes for a Merry Christmas. Mary Stephens, one of many flood victims, wanted to tell 9News how important this toy drive is this year. "I'm raising these four grandchildren and live on a fixed income. Our house, you see, we just got one wall back, the whole kitchen's still gone. So Christmas this year would've been very slim without a little help," she said.
The Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office has sponsored the Christmas Crusade for 29 years now. When you hug a child's neck and leave a house full of kids knowing what Christmas morning may be like, you never grow tired of this effort.