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HIGH SPINGS ‒ Christmas is a time for joy and excitement as holiday traditions bring back warm memories as well as anticipation of what is to come. Children are especially excited as they await Christmas morning and the gifts they hope to receive. Christmas is also a time for giving and sharing, and thanks to the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) and its partners, less fortunate children enjoyed a merry Christmas.

Since 2008, HSPD has sponsored Operation Holiday Cheer. HSPD, along with help from the High Springs Fire Department (HSFD) and the City Parks and Recreation Department, have asked for donations of new toys, pajamas and books from the community so they can provide them to children in need. Several local businesses, the Rotary Club and the High Springs Community School have also been involved in the effort.

The school typically notifies the school resource officer of families that could use the help, and HSPD contacts the child's parents to get approval for a delivery and find out if there are other children in the house to add to the list. This also gives the police an opportunity to learn what the children want as they try to match the gifts to the children.

But like everything else in 2020, the pandemic affected how Operation Holiday Cheer would continue. For HSPD, it was never a question of canceling the event, only how to change it to make it safe for everyone.

This year, instead of individuals and organizations donating toys, the police department asked only for cash donations so the officers could purchase the toys themselves to guarantee they were sanitized and properly handled. And parents and children also received gift cards to purchase any items they needed, including food.

Cards were donated by both local and corporate merchants. Locally, Pepperonis, Dollar Tree and Winn-Dixie contributed cards. Other card sponsors included Walmart, Amazon, Old Navy and Gamespot. According to HSPD Chief Antione Sheppard, despite the hard economic times, the community gave more donations than in previous years, providing over $7,000 for the officers to buy gifts.

This year’s event was organized by HSPD Police Officer Jason Taylor and on the morning of Dec. 21, Taylor along with fellow HSPD officers and staff and members of the fire department, sprang into action. They left the police station in police cruiser with lights flashing and the City’s fire truck, going home to home, delivering gifts to 31 children in 12 families.

With COVID precautions in mind, all the officers were masked to provide safe interaction with the families. The group also included two administrative members of the department dressed in colorful inflated costumes representing Santa Claus and a Christmas tree. In addition to spreading holiday cheer, the costumes provided a contact barrier allowing the characters to have closer interaction with the children.

While the pandemic has changed many aspects of life in 2020, traditions continue and people find other ways to safely work around COVID-19. This year has been hard for many families, especially economically, and that makes Operation Holiday Cheer more important than ever to help those in need this holiday season.

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