This year’s parade featured inflatable balloons and children’s characters to help collect toys for Operation Blue Santa.
By Malia Bradshaw
Santa has been spotted in Austin! This Dec. 1, the Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade decorated Congress Avenue with giant inflatable balloons, festive holiday floats, famous children’s characters and spectacular marching bands. The parade, which benefits Austin’s Operation Blue Santa program, is free to the public, although spectators were encouraged to bring a toy to be distributed by the program to a child for the holidays.
The parade is the 23-year-old brainchild of Chuy’s co-owner, Mike Young. In 1987, Chuy’s and KLBJ-FM teamed together to start an annual toy drive to benefit the Operation Blue Santa program. The drive was hosted at the then two Chuy’s locations in Austin. Two years later, Young decided a parade might help raise awareness for the toy drive and assist in a greater collection of toys. The result was a nearly tripled amount of toys raised for Operation Blue Santa from previous years.
Organized by the Austin Police Department, Operation Blue Santa is a nonprofit, community-based corporation. Every year, the program provides each family it serves with a full holiday meal and wrapped Christmas gifts for all children younger than 14. In 1972, the program served about 20 families. This holiday season, the program will serve more than 3,500 families.
The parade plays a large role in the success of Blue Santa. Last year, more than 50,000 spectators participated in the parade, resulting in the collection of 20 percent of the toys Operation Blue Santa needed.
As a special treat for this year’s parade, 2012 Olympic men’s 1,500-meter silver medalist, Leo Manzano, was named Grand Marshal. The track-and-field athlete, who attended the University of Texas, is the first Longhorn ever to make the U.S. Olympic team in the 1,500-meter category. He currently lives and trains in Austin. With the Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade, the Austin community had an opportunity to congratulate him on his Olympic success, all while benefiting a great cause.
Don’t worry if you missed the parade; there are still plenty of ways to help Operation Blue Santa this season. There are several places throughout Austin to drop off toys, including Whole Foods, Mozart’s Coffee and all five area Chuy’s locations. Blue Santa volunteer opportunities in December are also available, with duties including wrapping, filling bags and boxing toys. Lastly, donations can be made online. For more information, visit bluesanta.org.