Beneath George Glaeser’s bullet-proof vest is a heart as big as the North Pole.
The long-time University of Texas Police Department (UTPD) officer has delivered toys on Christmas Day to children living in the University Apartments, often referred to as married student housing, going on 18 years.
In 1992 it started with two children, and this Christmas, he plans to deliver hundreds of toys to about 114 children ranging in age from newborn to teen.
He was the Orange Santa before the university’s gift donation program even existed.
But the story of how Glaeser, 59, became the police officer version of Santa Claus almost two decades ago starts with a stolen car and a distraught father.
‘Twas right before Christmas, and Glaeser responded to an auto theft call. A graduate student living in the University Apartments had his car stolen — the only mode of transportation for his young family.
“And this guy said, ‘I have no money, what do I do?’ He had nobody to turn to. That is something you never forget,” Glaeser said.
The vehicle was eventually recovered, but had been severely vandalized. So Glaeser made a few phone calls and was able to get the car repaired for a nominal fee. He tried to comfort the student, a father of two young children, but the student confessed that all the money he’d saved for Christmas presents had to be spent to fix the car.
Glaeser said he told the student, “Don’t worry about Christmas. Things will take care of themselves.”
And at 7:30 a.m. Christmas Day, Glaeser rang the family’s doorbell and produced a sack filled with toys for the two children.
“It was just a wonderful Christmas,” Glaeser said. “It was heartwarming, that you could do something that would help somebody who had a misfortune like that.”
A tradition was born.
As he sits up very straight and has a neatly trimmed mustache, Glaeser looks quite serious, but he exudes a thoughtful and caring spirit.
He is originally from San Angelo, graduated from The University of Texas at Austin and has been a UTPD officer since 1974. In 1978 he joined the Air Force and saw the world, and in 1986 he returned to the university. He now guards the Office of the President in the Main Building.
He spends his Christmas day with other people’s families because, to put it simply, he’s a good person. About as good as they come.
“George has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met,” said UTPD Capt. Julie Gillespie. “He’s a giver.”
Glaeser buys and delivers toys on Christmas for a couple of reasons. The first is to teach children to trust — and not fear — police officers. (He wears his uniform on Christmas day and tops it off with an orange Santa hat.) The second is because his mother was a shining example of the joy of giving and his “do-good” inspiration.
Glaeser has many fond memories of delivering toys through the years. One of his favorites is the year a mother called him and asked if her son could help him deliver toys. Her child had been a recipient of Glaeser’s gifts and wanted to participate in the giving, but was too shy to call Glaeser himself.
“Every year I think of that first time, first family, first two children,” he said. “And the first time a young man decided he wanted to give up his Christmas because he’d received gifts for four years and he wanted to be a part of it. And to me that really is the essence of giving. There’s nothing more than giving of oneself.”
Glaeser shops year-round for age- and gender-appropriate toys, stores them in his house’s attic and, come Christmas, sorts them in his living room. The Orange Santa program, other charities and some of his colleagues donate toys, too.
What started as a one-man operation now requires a legion of volunteers. Some are out-of-town friends and members of the police department.
“The University of Texas at Austin is like a big extended family to a lot of people,” he said. “You may have the idea, but it’s such a giving community. It seems like people want to get involved, especially around Christmas. We have people from all over the world going to the university, and a lot of them are on a very tight budget. So it kind of makes it nice to help out.”
If you want to donate toys to Glaeser’s cause, he asks that interested people contact the Orange Santa program at 512-471-7753 or e-mail Melissa Huddleston.
Captions and credits:
• Read the audio interview transcript (PDF) of George telling the story of his first Christmas delivering gifts.
• Music courtesy of Kevin MacLeod at Incompetech.com. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.