TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County “Sincerely Santa” program kicked off for the season on Thursday with a parade of first responders to DeSoto Elementary School in Tampa.
Law enforcement and firefighters from Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Fire Rescue, Tampa Police, Temple Terrace Police, Temple Terrace Fire Rescue, and Hillsborough County Public School district participated, escorting Santa to the school to the delight of students.
Santa read the class a story and his first responder “elves” gave each child a book as a gift.
The event kicks off the month-long “Sincerely Santa” effort.
The program provides toys and clothing to underprivileged children in the Tampa Bay area.
Each year, kids in kindergarten through second grade write a letter to Santa about what they want for Christmas.
Teachers select letters of the neediest children and forward them to Sincerely Santa.
The letters are displayed at Westfield Town Center Brandon and distributed to corporate partners.
These letters can be heartbreaking.
“Please, please please, please can I have some shoes,” wrote one student in a previous year.
“Me, my sister and my brother have been living with my grandma. She has three children of her own. She don’t have much but she has love. She is doing the best she can. All we want is to have a good Christmas,” wrote an 8-year-old student.
Captain David Raasch with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue has been working with Sincerely Santa for 25 of the 32 years the program has been around.
“We’ve got a little boy that’s asking for a bed, a lot of them are asking for pillows, blankets, hygiene-type products. They will get those items, but they will also get some other stuff that the kids, you know, enjoy, some of the toys that they would not normally have,” Capt. Raasch said.
He explained that first responders see “a lot of bad things,” but this is a way of helping them take a little more control.
“When people call us in a time of need, we don’t always have control of that situation until we get there,” he explained.
“Then we leave and go about our business. This program allows us to come back under different terms. We get to call the shots. Most of these families don’t know we’re coming. The children write the letters to Santa Claus, they have no idea that each letter will get answered and they’ll get a delivery.”
Those wishing to donate can pick up a letter to purchase items for a child or family at Westfield Town Center Brandon, located at 459 Brandon Town Center Drive.
Sincerely Santa provided 8 On Your Side with a wish list of items.
- Hot Wheels cars
- Play Dough/paint sets
- Arts & crafts kits
- Action figures (non-violent)
- Barbies/Bratz dolls (all races)
- Baseballs & gloves
- Adventure/mystery/joke books
- Fuzzy posters with markers
- Coloring and activity books
- Crayons, markers and colored pencils
- Board games
- Hair accessories
- Nail polish sets
- Funky jewelry
- Lego sets
- Gift certificates and cards
- Model arts & crafts kits
- Nail polish and remover
- CDs (edited)
- Baseballs and gloves
- Board games
- Blanket journals or sketchbooks
- Fast food and restaurant certificates
- Plastic mazes and puzzles
- Make-up kits
- Movie passes
- Fragrance kits (male and female)
- Watches with alarms
- Fashion jewelry
- Small picture frames
Sincerely Santa notes that all children want handheld games with batteries.