HAVERHILL — Osmond "Ozzie" Hardy has retired from the Police Department, but you can still find him around town — especially as Christmas approaches.
His retirement from the force does not mean he is giving up his work at Haverhill's unofficial Santa through Ozzie's Kids — an organization he founded 23 years ago to provide Christmas gifts to needy children.
He will continue the program that brings smiles each year to hundreds of children who otherwise would have nothing under the tree.
It all began years ago as a humble program of giving called "I Believe," which evolved into Ozzie's Kids. Last year the program distributed 5,000 gifts to more than 900 children.
When Hardy retired from the Police Department earlier this year, he wasn't sure if Ozzie's Kids would return.
The station had long served as his North Pole and was where donations could be dropped off and messages left.
"I wasn't sure if it was going to survive," Hardy said. "The Police Department was my line of communication. They let me use my phone at the station as the contact and we had the cooperation of everybody from the chief on down."
He was uncertain as to how families seeking help would reach him and what he would tell his many sponsors who were waiting for an answer.
"I had tried one year to use my personal cell phone but it didn't work out very well," he said.
Then a few weeks ago, he spoke with police Chief Alan DeNaro, who is allowing dispatchers to notify callers that Hardy is retired and are referring them to his new Ozzie's Kids Facebook page.
Hardy's granddaughter created the page so parents seeking help could reach him, along with those who want to refer a family or make a donation.