Pancho Claus brings the magic of Christmas and giving to children in Houston

Richard Reyes spends the holidays giving gifts to less-fortunate children.

Trade in reindeer for lowriders and the traditional red-and-white Santa outfit for a zoot suit and a fedora and you have the legend of Pancho Claus.

Richard Reyes has been dressing up as Pancho Claus in the Houston area for almost 40 years.

Reyes said he heard stories of children in his community who were too sad to be happy about Christmas.

“I started getting these real, sad stories of -- you know -- their house burnt down, mom’s in jail, grandma's raising kids by herself etc. So me and my friends just slowly started giving out presents on Christmas Eve, visiting homes, and now it took off to where we do about 10,000 gifts for the year,” he said.

He wanted to make sure the children in the inner-city neighborhoods who needed Christmas the most had something to celebrate.

“The letters we got (were from families) that have the most difficult and challenging time. ... Those are the ones that get invited to this particular party on Christmas Eve," he said. "The Pancho Claus Band performs. They get seven presents each. They get a meal."

And, the fun does not stop there.

“Then on Christmas Day early morning, we go with a group of lowriders and Precinct Six officers and cruise through the neighborhood streets of Houston in the inner city and just surprise kids with presents. ... It’s a big surprise on Christmas Day that they are getting something,” Reyes said.

Pancho Claus, however, hit some setbacks recently. Reyes said he suffered two heart attacks: one in July and another in September.

“I really, really had to take it easy, which was a challenge for our fundraising effort,” Reyes said.

Since then, however, he has bounced back right in time for the holidays.

“I wouldn't know that I had a health issue. I feel 100 percent,” Reyes said.

Reyes said that he'd also lost most of his corporate sponsorships after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area in August 2017.

“In the past, we had about $30,000 in corporate sponsorship and this year we have $2,000. ... So we’re really depending on people bringing toys,” he said.

He is not letting those obstacles slow him down.

“With the grace of God and the community’s help, we’re going to do it another year. ... We haven’t cut anything. We’re just going ahead and doing our best,” Reyes said.

He is hopeful that the community will help out by bringing toys to designated locations around the Houston area and by donating to his GoFundMe page. He said he can’t imagine not seeing the twinkle in children’s eyes during the holidays.

“When you see the little kid right in front of you, you see the grandma behind you just feeling relieved that they were able to pull off something for the children this Christmas,” Reyes said.

While Reyes' Pancho Claus can be found at various parades and holiday events throughout the Christmas season, his magic doesn’t stop after the holidays.

“The rest of the year we work a lot with teenage kids, both kids that are artists or are artistically-driven but also with kids that are in detention centers," he said.

"We visit a lot of detention centers. We help those kids find jobs, to get back into school or even find a home if need be so we have art exhibits that we travel."

Poetry is one form of art that Reyes loves.

“I want to remind all of those young kids out there, if you happen to be out there in the city streets, I want you to roll down the window and say to the night, 'Feliz Navidad todo,' if you have one alright,” he said, quoting from the poem, “Pancho Claus.”