Employees of the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department gathered behind the station in Olmito two days before Christmas to load seven different vans and trucks full of wrapped gifts, toys, clothing, and food.

The effort marked the 25th year that the department will caravan the vehicles through underprivileged Cameron County neighborhoods to deliver gifts, food, clothing, and blankets to families who otherwise might not have the money to celebrate the holiday.

Sheriff Omar Lucio spoke to reporters — flanked by Santa Claus and an elf — as employees loaded the vehicles in preparation for the first drop-off. “We want these children to realize that we are there to help them. We want them to get used to calling law enforcement whenever they need it — regardless of whether that’s the city, the constable, the sheriff, or DPS,” he said.

Lucio and his team of volunteers distributed the gifts all day on Monday and will continue the effort through Christmas day. “My people here are excited about this. We feel very good, just giving back to the community,” he said.

The sheriff and a volunteer estimated that $15,000 to $20,000 had been spent on the toys. The money, specified Lucio, is gifted through donations and kept in a special bank account controlled by the department’s auditor. This year, a local couple donated extra toys and supplies.

Lucio showed off a stack of six doll houses to be delivered to local children. The number of meal kits to be delivered was also increased this year from 25 to 40. Additional toys were collected by employees who were granted permission by local shopping centers to set up in the parking lots.

“We’ve got about 30 turkeys and we also have additional packages of chicken. Someone may tell us that they don’t have an oven for the turkey, for example, so we give them 10 pounds of chicken instead,” he told reporters.

Lucio held up additional loaves of bread and sacks of potatoes included in the kits.

“We’re going to take these items to some of the places where we feel that people might need a little something to cheer them up. We thank everyone who donated from the bottom of our heart.”

In Del Mar Heights, just east of Los Fresnos, the caravan made its first stop. Volunteers spent 20 minutes handing out gifts to children and families, around 25 of whom came out of their homes to speak with the officers and pose for photos.

“I didn’t expect cops to do this. It was nice to meet you,” said a teenage boy who received a gift alongside his brother.