Davidson, Public Information Officer
Volusia County Sheriff’s Office
DEPUTIES HOST ANNUAL HOLIDAY FEST FOR 300 CHILDREN
It got its humble beginnings back in 1989.
That’s the year a few Volusia County Sheriff’s deputies got together and decided to spread some holiday cheer to a handful of disadvantaged local children who were facing a bleak Christmas due to family financial woes. So well received was the program that it grew the following year, with about 100 deputies joining in. And just like that, the burgeoning program had a name – 100 Deputies/100 Kids.
Now in its 16th year, the all-volunteer program has long outgrown its moniker. On December 9, 2004, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office through its 100 Deputies/100 Kids charity played host to over 300 children during a gala party that included everything from food, fun and holiday gifts to pony rides and a visit from Santa Claus.
The cornerstone of the program is a large cadre of off-duty deputies who adopt the participating families for the evening. The deputies serve as official hosts and escorts for the annual party, picking up their families in green-and-white patrol cars for the ride to the Volusia County Agricultural Center in DeLand. This year, 106 deputies sponsored families for the party, representing more than 25 percent of the department’s sworn force.
The deputy escorts look forward to the holiday tradition every year, saying it gives them an opportunity to give something back to the community, help those less fortunate and bring smiles to children. In fact, most say they receive as much or more than what they give.
"Each time that I’ve been able to participate, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling as I see excitement and joy come over the children and parents that are our guests," said deputy Darry Hayashi, who played host to Antrie Gibson of DeLand and her three children – two boys and a girl.
100 Deputies/100 Kids is a non-profit, year-round charitable program that raises money through car washes, donut sales and individual and corporate contributions. It’s run by a volunteer committee of deputies and civilian Sheriff’s Office employees, headed by Judie Edwards, a management specialist in the department’s Public Information Office. Each fall, the program collects back-to-school supplies that are distributed to students who attend schools in low-income neighborhoods. But the centerpiece of the charity is the annual holiday party.
Based on financial need and personal circumstances, families are nominated to attend the party by deputies, school crossing guards and local school officials. The program was launched by the previous administration, and the tradition has been enthusiastically carried on by Sheriff Ben Johnson, now in his fifth year in office.
"For many of the children, the 100 Deputies/100 Kids party is their only holiday. The joy on their faces just warms your heart," said Sheriff Johnson. "Positive contact with law enforcement can make a big difference in a child’s life. This is our way of strengthening bonds and bringing joy to young lives. It’s a truly wonderful program that does a lot of good in the community."
While planning for the party goes on throughout the year, the pace picks up considerably in the last week. Six days prior to the party, the 100 Deputies/100 Kids committee goes on a massive shopping spree, filling up baskets to overflow with age-appropriate games and toys for more than 300 children ranging from 3-months-old all the way up to 18. The shopping tab runs about $8,400, financed with money collected throughout the year.
Then, local sororities help the committee with the mammoth task of sorting, wrapping, tagging and bagging the hundreds of presents. Next is decorating the party room with balloons and festive décor and coordinating arrangements for food and drinks for more 500 people – the children along with their parents or caregivers and their deputy hosts.
The party kicks off at 6:30 p.m., but the deputies and their families begin arriving much earlier so the kids can mingle and take turns on the pony ride or take a ride in the SWAT Hummer. Once the party is in full swing, volunteers shuffle about the room with incredible efficiency, serving up a dinner full of kid favorites – pizza, chicken wings, chips and holiday treats. With full bellies and rising excitement, the kids prepare for one of the highlights of the evening – a visit from Santa. Afterwards, it’s time to hand out the presents.
"It was fun," said 8-year-old Laquan Givens, one of the three children deputy Hayashi escorted to the party. "What was the best part? The whole thing!" Of deputy Hayashi, Laquan said: "He was a lot of fun. I like him."
Laquan’s mother, Antrie Gibson, didn’t tell her children where they were going. She wanted the evening to be a surprise. Weeks later, her kids are still excitedly recounting the details of the party, Antrie said.
"They enjoyed it. It was real nice," Antrie said.
The evening ends after about 2 ½ hours with a parade of blue lights and sirens as the families and deputy escorts depart en-masse.
But that’s not all. Unbeknownst to the children, 50 of the youngsters will awake on Christmas morning to a new bicycle under their Christmas tree. The bikes were donated to 100 Deputies/100 Kids and surreptitiously delivered to the homes.
With the party over and the decorations taken down, the children and families return home and the deputies return to their enforcement duties. But the kinship doesn’t end there. Many of the deputies continue to befriend their families long after the party ends, dropping in on them from time to time throughout the year to maintain the bonds, check on their welfare and even treat them to an occasional outing to a movie, ice cream parlor, local park or sporting event.
"I look forward to participating in this event every year," said deputy Avis Burrows, a foster parent of three. "I know first-hand what a child and the family feels when others take the time to recognize them. What a difference it makes just to know that others are thinking of them!"
The party is now over and the holiday season has passed. But with the warm afterglow from the festivities still burning strong, planning begins for the 16th annual event. For weary 100 Deputies/100 Kids committee members, however, it’s pure joy and a labor of love.
"It’s extremely rewarding to be able to assist families in need, not just during the holidays but throughout the entire year," said 100 Deputies/100 Kids chairperson Edwards. "I enjoy being able to bring the deputies and children together for the Christmas party and see the bright smiles on all of those young faces. It’s a truly memorable event for all of us."
100 Deputies 100 Kids would not be possible without generous donations from organizations such as:
Rotary Club of Oceanside
DeLand Rotary Club
Local Service Clubs of Volusia County
Sheriff's Youth Foundation
The Volusia County Agriculture Center, which for many years has donated the venue for the party
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