JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For decades, police in Jacksonville have made children with special needs smile from ear-to-ear during the holidays.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30 held its annual Children's Christmas Party on Tuesday at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds.
The party was held for more than 200 children with special needs in the Duval County school system. The FOP Lodge has been doing this for 66 years in the River City.
FOP members said it's something they look forward to every year, and the kids do, too.
"The teachers tell me they look forward to it the first day they come to school," said Vic Groner, of the FOP. "'When's the party? When is Santa Claus going to visit?' So they get cranked up for it early."
The holiday tradition hosted nine Duval County schools at the fairgrounds. FOP members gave kids gifts, did crafts and served them lunch, and Santa delivered presents to each child after making his grand entrance.
"It makes it great for them," said Officer Alex Bergamo. "I mean, they get to come here and see Santa and interact with them and see the joy on their face, you know. It's just great. It makes me happy to see this, and I know it makes the other officers happy, too."
The Children's Christmas Party is the first of two big holiday events the FOP sponsors. Later this month it'll hold its annual Cops and Kids event, when nominated children will get paired with an officer and go on a holiday shopping excursion.