Moved by Hurricane Michael Damage, Venice Police Officers Play Santa

BLOUNTSTOWN, Fla. - Days before Christmas, Blountstown police officers helped unload more than 60 brand new bicycles brought in a travel trailer from the Venice Police Department. 

Those bikes then went to deserving children in Blountstown. 

The Blountstown Police Department usually holds a bike drive every Christmas, but after Hurricane Michael, Chief Mark Mallory didn't want to ask residents and businesses to donate.

"When Venice found that out, they said, 'Let us do the bikes, let us handle the bike drive this year,'" said Chief Mark Mallory.

However, this was just a small part of what the Venice Police Department decided to handle this year. 

"We had a huge drive in Venice," said Master Police Officer Paul Joyce with the Venice Police Department. "We do a thing every year called Blue Santa."

Joyce along with Paul Freeman head up the fundraiser in Venice, a small coastal town just south of Tampa. For more than 50 years, Blue Santa has provided presents and food baskets for families in Venice.

In addition to helping our their community, they also wanted to help their brothers in blue in Blounstown. They arrived in Calhoun County shortly after Hurricane Michael and spent a month assisting the department with calls and whatever needed to be done.

"They helped tarp roofs," said Mallory. "They took food and water and distributed it; they were fantastic."

"A few of us got together and said we need to do more for Blountstown," said Joyce. "We need to take care of them a little bit more, so we made a promise to them, we'd be back in December."

In addition to their Blue Santa program in Venice and taking charge of Blountstown's bike drive, they created a Blue Angel Christmas tree and set it up at their department.

"Each child that was on that tree was a child of this agency, the Blountstown Police Department," said Joyce.

On the tree was the child's name and a wishlist, which Joyce requested from Blountstown officers ahead of time.

"That tree emptied out within eight hours. It was so heartwarming to see that happen."

Joyce said some community members were upset to find all the names were picked off the tree, but still donated toys anyways.

On the same day they delivered more than 60 brand new bikes, they also help unload more than $10,000 worth of toys in a separate travel trailer. Joyce also presented Chief Mallory with more than a thousand dollars in gift cards and cash for him to distribute to his employees as he sees fit. 

The generous donations made this Christmas extra special and uplifting for Blountstown officers when so many of them are still dealing with destruction and rebuilding.

"I had officers lose vehicles," said Mallory. "I think all, but two officers lost roofs."

It's an experience Joyce says he and his community are familiar with. They went experienced Hurricane Irma last year.

During their month stay helping out Blountstown after the storm, they created a strong bond with all the department's employees. 

"The fact that they're still here supporting us on into the holidays, when they have their own town, their own families to take care of, and they're still here for us, it's amazing," said Mallory.

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