Toys putting smiles on the faces of 7,000 Jacksonville children

20th annual Children's Christmas Party of Jacksonville underway

By Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor, Tracy Gaffney - Community Service Director

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The doors of the Prime Osborn Convention Center opened at 9 a.m. Saturday, and a mountain of toys are being handed out to children of Jacksonville who might not otherwise receive toys for Christmas.

It's the 20th year for the Children's Christmas Party of Jacksonville, which collects donations of new, unwrapped toys from businesses, citizens and viewers of WJXT and gives them to Duval County's children in need.

“This is their Christmas,” Tad Strong, Children’s Christmas Party chairman of the board, said last year. “I gave a bike away in 2008 and have been hooked ever since.”

The "Wonder of Christmas" theme will greet up to 7,000 children. Guest appearance are expected by Mayor Lenny Curry, Jaxson de Ville and, of course, Santa Claus.

"We'll see thousands of smiling faces in the morning, bright and early," said Travis Storey, Children's Christmas Party founder.

Hundreds of volunteers, including some from News4Jax, will help pass out footballs, dolls, basketballs, and even bikes on a first-come, first-served basis.

"People have stepped forward to help and stepped forward to be a part of it," Storey said. "We have a volunteer base (of) about 700 to 800 people. This is a tremendous organization that does tremendous good every year."

Children are given three tickets that could be exchanged for toys. Some of the tickets are randomly stamped for that child to receive a bicycle.

Toys are given to children ages 12 and younger. The families in need are not required to present identification or make an application, but children must be present to receive the toys.

The Children’s Christmas Party of Jacksonville is a nonprofit organization. Money is donated throughout the year by local companies and individuals to help buy toys in bulk. 

Sponsors who helped make this year's party possible gathered for a breakfast Friday morning before the big day. 

Last year 23,000 toys were available for children -- plenty for every family that attended.

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