JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - For decades, police in Jacksonville have made children with special needs in Jacksonville smile from ear to ear during the holidays, and they did that again Wednesday morning.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30 held its annual Children's Christmas Party at the fairgrounds.
This is something the FOP has been doing for nearly 60 years in Jacksonville. It's a Christmas party for children with special needs in the Duval County school system, and on Wednesday, they made more than a couple hundreds kids very happy.
It's a big moment in Jacksonville -- Santa's arrival every December at the FOP Christmas party, the patrol car-surfing Santa with blue lights flashing, siren blaring and Santa on the hood. He delivers presents to hundreds of special needs children.
"Just to see the kids and how they react and how they just love the police officers, they love the interaction with them and then of course we see them on Santa Clause, and it's like having your own kids at a separate function waking up to see Santa every day, so it's pretty fun," said Interim President Steve Amos.
More than 200 children and Duval County Public Schools staff from nine schools were at Wednesday's party at the Jacksonville fairgrounds.
"They get a police escort to the fairgrounds, they have an officer that's with them the whole time they have a real nice Christmas dinner and afterwards Santa Clause comes in to see them," said Amos.
Santa Clause visits with each child individually, each child has a gift taken and bought specifically for that child in lieu of his needs and whatever he may have.
About 3,300 officers are members of the FOP, and a majority of them were at the Christmas party. It's a holiday tradition the founding fathers of FOP Lodge 5-30 began and it's something current officers all look forward to.
"It's important for police officers and correctional officers and first responders to interact with children because we want to be seen as role models and positive role models we also want to be able to interact with them young, where we gain their trust and we can possibly stem off some bad influences in their life early on," said Amos.
The event lasts about three to four hours. It's the first of two big holiday events the FOP sponsors. Later this month, they'll hold their annual cops and kids event where nominated children will get paired with an officer and get to go on a holiday shopping excursion.
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