Hogansville Santa Claus helps provide families with Christmas trees

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, December 7, 2021

HOGANSVILLE — For the past several years now, Robert “Bobby” Conway has been the Santa Claus of Hogansville, listening to children’s Christmas requests and being a kind influence to their parents.

But since about 2018, Conway, who works for the Georgia Department of Public Health, has acted behind the scenes to help families in need receive gifts and a Christmas tree.

Conway began his Santa career when he volunteered for the Newnan Police Department’s Shop with a Cop, which provides gifts to disadvantaged families. At the time, Conway had a goatee and opted for a fake beard with the Santa suit given to him to wear. The following year, Conway took the role more seriously and grew out his beard and dyed it white and even bought a new suit and custom leather belt.

That year while working with Shop with a Cop, Conway greeted a child as usual, but as their conversation continued, she inquired to him something a bit out of the norm.

“She was excited and kept asking me questions … one time she came up and said, ‘Santa, do you bring the tree?’” Conway said. “I said, ‘no sweetie, I bring the presents to put under the tree.’ And she said she didn’t have a tree.”

Conway spread the word to the officers he was working with, and they “tripped over each other” to go buy a tree for the child’s family. They got their tree, but it got Conway thinking how other families in the area may be facing the same dilemma.

“It never dawned on me that, if they don’t have money for gifts then they might not have money for the tree,” he said. “I got to thinking that on the day after Christmas, the trees get cheap, some about 50% off. I thought I could get the word out to my [Facebook friends] and get them to fan out and buy six-foot trees.”

He managed to accumulate just over 50 trees for the following Christmas.

He’s been able to continue giving trees to families even through the pandemic.

On Saturday, Conway returned to his Santa role and heard the requests of dozens of children at city hall. At one point, he encountered a child who said their family did not have a Christmas tree, and Conway was quick to speak to the child’s mother on the matter.

“Santa Claus is going to deliver us a tree tonight,” the woman said to the child.

Such moments make his experience worthwhile, Conway said, but are still a reminder that families, especially children, still hurt even during the holiday season.

“You try to make it as special as you can so that they have good memory around Christmas,” he said.

“But you have to turn your head around sometimes to keep from crying. And I couldn’t handle the thought of a child not having a tree. I can’t let that happen if I know about it. It’s one of those things you take for granted.”