By Victoria Malmer, Palm Beach Post (Florida)
Most of the time in December, Chris Gideos is a husband, dad and Lake Worth Police officer. But he has a secret identity.
Occasionally, Gideos disappears into a fire station, and out comes Kris Kringle! Santa visits day care centers, senior centers, Girl Scouts and the poorest children in Lake Worth. Sometimes he arrives on a firetruck and the kids go wild.
One of his favorite things is to visit the homes of other Lake Worth officers on Christmas Eve. The families often spy on him as he puts presents under their trees. "Some of the kids were believing in Santa WAY longer than they should have," Gideos said. "They'd seen him."
Gideos' mother made the suit 13 years ago, when he wanted to take some pictures with his son. "Mom made me a great suit," he said. "She's great on the sewing machine."
Gideos has been a Lake Worth officer for 17 years. He's worked in many areas, including SWAT and K-9. Right now he's assigned to traffic.
Standing in for the real Santa "is not hard at all," Gideos said. "I enjoy watching the kids. They get this sparkle in their eyes. It makes me feel really good inside."
Gideos is married to Marla Gideos, director of operations for the nonprofit Hugs not Drugs program in Lake Worth. Often when they visit the poorest neighborhoods to hand out toys, Chris wears a Lake Worth Police T-shirt, or a Hugs not Drugs shirt. He tries to spread two messages. One is self-esteem, to help kids avoid drugs.
The other is to not fear police. "We want children to think of us as someone they can come to if they have a problem," he said. "We want them to know someone thinks about them, someone cares."
"We've delivered toys to kids who are playing in their yards in underwear, barefoot. These are kids that are overlooked by the system.
"Last year, we gave a little boy an oversize checker set from a dollar store and a chocolate Santa," he said. "He ran around screaming 'I got checkers! I got checkers! You'd have thought we brought him a Nintendo and a big-screen TV."
Marla said: "It's so precious, watching him with the kids."
Gideos learned the spirit of giving early. "It was passed on to me by my parents," he said. "I'm trying to teach my kids about giving back the same way my parents taught me." His mom Jane, who lives with them, often sends packages of needed items to orphanages in India and Africa.
He's grateful to his employer. "The Lake Worth Police Department gives me all the time I need to do these events," he said. "They're so supportive."
When he's not Santa, Gideos lives in Wellington with Marla and his kids: son Chris is 14 and daughter Ashley is 10. He plays Rollerblade hockey and racquetball to unwind.
In the early fall, he and Marla and Hugs not Drugs gather backpacks and school supplies for 500 poor kids in the county, including many migrant kids who show up after school starts for the year, often without any school supplies.
In the summer, he builds sets and plans a haunted house in downtown Lake Worth to raise money for Hugs not Drugs. The three-day event brought in 712 people this past October.
"We do a lot of different things to help out in the community," he said. "It's just who we are."