Beard Badge Challenge raising funds for charity

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By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM

Liberty Hill Police officers shave their beards this week, ending a three-month “Beard Badge Challenge” raising support for Liberty Hill families in need of holiday cheer this season.

The facial hair competition started Oct. 5, after Leander Police Chief Greg Minton called on the Liberty Hill Police Department to compete against his officers to see who could grow the longest, grayest, or simply “ugliest” beard — and in the process draw donations to the departments’ Blue Santa programs.

“Cops are really competitive, and we all want to win, but the charity is what we’re really focusing on,” said Liberty Hill Police Chief Maverick Campbell, who allowed his officers to waive the usual policy against facial hair by donating to the department’s program.

Six officers at LHPD, including Campbell, competed in the challenge.

Liberty Hill’s Blue Santa will, alongside Leander’s, channel resources toward an organization serving families all over the region. Campbell has previously established a goal of ensuring that at least 10-25 families in Liberty Hill are helped.

Beyond the roughly $20 that each officer initially contributed, Campbell said the Beard Badge Challenge served as a “great conversation starter.”

“One of our officers told me he stopped someone at a light, and the first thing out of their mouth was, ‘Hey you got a beard, what’s up with that?’ That opened up a discussion about our program, and how to donate,” Campbell said.

Minton said some civilians in Leander, after seeing his beard, wrote a donation check on the spot.

As a smaller police department, Campbell said much of the resources they’ve raised have been donations of toys and other items from the community.

“We had one guy bring in 12 bikes. That’s a great, traditional present for a kid. It brings back memories of my own childhood,” Campbell said.

Besides Liberty Hill, Minton also invited the departments of Round Rock, Georgetown and Cedar Park to participate.

“We just loved checking in to see how ragged-looking the cops at these stations got,” Minton said. “I saw a picture on Facebook of Chief Campbell at a donut shop with his beard, so I sent him a picture of me like, ‘mine’s better.’”

This is the LHPD’s first year hosting a Blue Santa program, which, in police departments across Texas, raise resources for holiday charities. Much of the Liberty Hill program this season builds off the existing Leander Blue Santa.

Campbell coordinated with the Hill County Christmas Bureau, the charity Leander works through, to ensure that among the 500 or so families in the region they serve, at least some live in Liberty Hill.

“Our annual accomplishment is to provide gifts to those who do not have much hope for a merry Christmas,” reads the Bureau’s website. Children in families served receive one major toy, in addition to one or two small gifts.

“The people we help are in bad situations, living in trailer homes with missing floors or no heating,” says Dianne Gattuso, who has run the Hill Country Christmas Bureau the last 38 years. “We’ve got a mom who just received a new kidney, and needs to know her kids are gonna be alright while she’s in the hospital.

“These kids usually don’t ask for toys. They usually ask for shoes, underwear and socks. Those are our the biggest ‘wishes’ we get,” she added.

“For me, a family in need is a family in need regardless of where they live,” said Campbell. “And it was my pledge in this program to coordinate with the folks at Hill Country Christmas Bureau to make sure families from Liberty Hill were included.”

Campbell’s goal for 10-25 families in Liberty Hill to be helped by the bureau will likely be met, Gattuso said.

“Williamson County closed their doors. Now [families are] coming out of the woodwork, and we’re getting a rush of registrations. We’re the only organization that does ‘emergency’ deliveries. If there’s someone out there on Christmas Day without what they need, we’ll still be on the streets,” she said.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department Brown Santa program helps most Liberty Hill families needing support in the holiday season, but “not all families made the registration deadline,” said Campbell.

“We share lists with the other bureaus,” said Gattuso, “so we can check if a family is already being served by Williamson.”

Those Liberty Hill families helped by the Hill Country Christmas Bureau are those whose children attend Leander ISD.

Outside of Liberty Hill’s recent involvement, the Hill Country Christmas Bureau also delivers food pantry staples, support for the elderly and coordinates family adoption programs.

Gattuso said donations are slow right now, and notes that interested readers can find a variety of ways to help on their website at hillcountrychristmas.org. They also accept PayPal, or checks made out to the Hill Country Christmas Bureau.

Gattuso said it’s unclear whether Liberty Hill’s Blue Santa program will continue to work through their organization, and that more talks with Williamson County will be necessary, but this year, “we’re more than happy to take his (LHPD) donations.”

The Badge Beard Challenge, meanwhile, will “definitely continue,” said Minton. “It was a huge success for raising money.”

Liberty Hill residents will soon be able to vote on officers’ beards in an upcoming Facebook poll.

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