Early Christmas for thousands of kids

26 companies donate so all Jacksonville children can have Christmas

JACKSONVILLE, Fla - The Children's Christmas Party of Jacksonville, a yearly tradition in the River City, was held Saturday to give local children an early chance to celebrate the holiday.

Each child is given three tickets to choose three presents from the many booths.

Tiki Boland, 10, has been coming to the party since he was old enough to remember. Every year, he has wanted a bike and, every year, he walked away without one -- until this year.

"All these years I've been there, it's never happened to me. I'm so happy right now," said Boland.

A few hundred tickets for bicycles were handed out at random. The children who didn't receive a bike still had plenty of other toys to choose from.

Tonya Powell got in line at 4 a.m. Saturday. Once inside, she let her children choose gifts for each other, so on Christmas morning there will be plenty of surprises.

"Times are tough. The jobs aren't there and for a community to come together and be able to help families out like this and donate toys so children could have a Christmas, it's awesome," said Powell.

Organizers said there were about 75,000 gifts available, including Barbie dolls, trucks, stuffed animals and even a microphone. But not everyone came for the gifts.

"Just to come out and just to mingle with the people standing in line was part of the Christmas spirit," said Donta Grant.

"It's just nice to see that Jacksonville is doing something. You know, they ain't just sitting back and watching everybody fail, you know," said Jackie Cooper, who has two young children. "At least they can help somebody get a good Christmas."

The Children's Christmas Party began 13 years ago. Diane Halverson is the lead organizer. She said 26 companies either donated toys or money this year.

Each year, Halverson said something happens to remind her why the Christmas party is so important.

"Usually, it has to do with a child being happy as can be or some parent coming up and saying, 'You know my kids would not have gotten any toys really unless I had come to this party,'" said Halverson.

Last year, organizers ran out of toys and some children went home empty-handed. On Saturday, everyone who came went home with at least one gift.

Copyright 2011 by News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.