HIGH SPRINGS – On the morning of Dec. 21 a convoy of emergency vehicles gathered in front of the High Springs Police station. They were on a special mission called Operation Holiday Cheer. At 9:30 a.m., a convoy of four police cars and a fire truck left the parking lot with emergency lights flashing and a police siren to alert traffic at crossroads. One police vehicle towed a trailer full of presents. These first responders were on a mission to make Christmas special for kids that might otherwise receive little. It’s a chance to give to others and help keep the excitement and joy in a child’s heart for this special time of year.
Since 2008, the High Springs police and fire departments have asked for donations of new toys, pajamas and books from the community so they can provide them to local children. Several local businesses, the Rotary Club and the High Springs Community School are also involved in the effort.
The High Springs Community School notifies the police department of families they feel could use the help, and the police department then contacts the child’s parents to get approval for a delivery and find out if there are other children in the house. They don’t want anyone to feel left out, so if there are other children in the house they are also added to the list. This also gives the police an opportunity to see what the children want and they try to match the gifts to the children.
Once the visit is approved by the parents, the families are added to the list. For some families, the delivery date did not work, so they were able to pick up the gifts at the police station or a day care center. However, part of the total experience for the children is the delivery. It’s not often that a child has a convoy of police and fire vehicles come to their home with lights flashing and a trailer full of wrapped presents.
The event is organized by High Springs Police Officer Jason Taylor and on the morning of Dec. 21, Officer Taylor, his son Jason Jr. and friend Noah Brock were joined by fellow officers James Yakubish, Tony Pakala, Assistant Chief Antione Sheppard and Chief Joel DeCoursey. Lieutenant Kevin Pearson also arrived with the fire truck and crew.
The first delivery was to a boy living with his mother and grandmother. They both knew what was to happen, but the boy did not. As the convoy pulled into the apartment parking lot the boy had a surprised look on his face, which only grew as Jason Jr. and his friend Noah brought a large box of wrapped presents to him. As his mother and grandmother looked on, he excitedly began opening the presents one by one. After all were opened, he thanked everyone and shook hands with Chief DeCoursey and Lt. Sheppard.
At the next stop, both parents were working and the two middle school kids were home on Christmas break. They were hesitant to open the door and come out with all the police cars there with lights flashing. A call to their parents resolved the issue and they came out to a crowd of uniformed officers in Santa hats complete with a box of presents for each of them. They opened them in a stunned silence, unable to believe it was happening, with smiles growing on their faces with each present.
The next stop was two boys living with a guardian. The initial reaction was the same as the others, a disbelief that this was happening to them. Accompanied by a friend, they opened the presents. At the end they thanked all the officers thinking it was over, but the crew had an additional surprise for them. Officer Taylor pulled two new bicycles off the trailer and presented them to the boys. As the boys climbed on the bikes, Taylor halted them and explained that as police officers they had to make sure that these two riders met the legal safety precautions and produced two helmets for them as well. After the officers put the helmets properly on the boys they were allowed to ride, with a reminder that they should always wear a helmet.
The next delivery was a house with five children. They all gathered on the front porch as the convoy pulled up. The eldest had her hands clasped together and a smile on her face. As dad looked on, she walked down the steps to greet Jason Jr. as he approached with a large box of presents. Like the previous stops, she had a look of shock and joy mixed on her face. The box was brought back to the porch and the name on each present was called out. One young boy stopped opening presents when he got a drum. It was what he wanted and nothing else mattered as he picked up the drum sticks and began hitting the drum.
The five kids were not the largest delivery. Next was a house with six children. Their excitement showed as they each opened presents leaving the yard strewn with wrapping paper. But this was still not the largest group. The final stop of the morning was a day care center, where about 15 young children gathered in the fenced yard to be handed presents by police and firemen. For one police officer, this stop had special meaning. His young son attended here.
Operation Holiday Cheer has brought happiness for nine years for children who have little For those children, these gifts made a huge difference. Operation Holiday Cheer is well named, bringing joy and happiness by the simple act of compassion and giving to children who need it.
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