LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — It was a scene out of a Hallmark movie. Snow — albeit fake — in Florida, coating lawns and covering carolers, Santa, and even a pony. All thanks to Lakeland and its residents. And all for one girl — Mackenzie Orth.
“That’s what this town is about too,” said Bethany Fife. “Lakeland is so community-oriented, and it was great to just see that as an example here.”
The display of Christmas and community spirit all began with H.L. McConnell, a staff chaplain at Tampa General Hospital.
“Mackenzie and I have — I don’t know how to explain it,” McConnell said. “Like a brother-sister relationship. I don’t know — a bond between us.”
McConnell met Orth and her family last spring and has been with them in Orth’s uphill battle against rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive cancer. He wanted to do something special for her favorite holiday, so he contacted LKLD SantaCon.
“So about two weeks ago, I messaged them via Instagram,” McConnell explained. “I didn’t know anybody, I just asked, messaged them, and asked if they could maybe find me a Santa Claus and maybe some elves to come.”
“I was at the salon,” Lewman recalled. “Literally sitting in the chair when I read the message, and I just started crying.”
His message reached SantaCon organizers, Megan Lewman and Bethany Fife.
“He asked if I could get some Santas to show up at her house,” Lewman said. “I was like, ‘Well, I think I can probably do a little better than that. But we’ll see.'”
What they saw amazed all of them.
More than 100 people from the community dressed up in their Christmas sweaters and Santa hats, holding handmade posters for Orth and bringing balloons. Firefighters drove by with police, waving at Orth. Santa Claus himself got out of a fire truck and delivered her presents early, and stood by her side as the Lakeland High School Chamber Singers, decked out in traditional clothes, sang Christmas carols.
And in a moment where the crowd held its collective breath, Orth, too weak to stand, had her dad lift her up to a winter princess riding a pony, where she stroked its mane for what felt like an eternity.
“That was a moment of pure peace and comfort for her,” McConnell said.
It was a moment of pure peace and comfort for everyone. And to cap it all off, Santa sang, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” to Orth.
There was hardly a dry eye on the block.
If you’d like to help out Orth and her family, they have a Custom Ink shirt fundraiser here.