You sure can throw one heckuva party with 150 pizzas, 70 cases of soda and more than $10,000 worth of presents.
And that’s exactly what Sheriff’s deputies just did, in an annual tradition that brought smiles and holiday cheer to more than 200 children from across the county. Now in its 19th year, the centerpiece of the Sheriff’s Office’s 100 Deputies/100 Kids charity program is a massive holiday celebration for disadvantaged children. This year’s festivities took place on Dec. 13 in DeLand and included everything from food, fun and holiday gifts to pony rides and a visit from Santa Claus.
A committee spends much of the year planning the event and raising money through private donations to fund the party. Using donated money, the group went on a Walmart shopping spree and filled baskets to the brim with about $10,400 worth of gifts for the children. At the end of the shopping spree, Walmart offset part of the expenses by presenting the 100 Deputies/100 Kids Committee with a $4,500 donation.
The backbone of the program is a large group of off-duty deputies who volunteer their time to serve as hosts for the evening. This year, approximately 94 deputies participated. Families facing hardships are nominated by deputies, school crossing guards and guidance counselors to attend the party. Deputies serve as official hosts and escorts for the evening, picking up their families in their patrol cars for the ride to the Volusia County Agricultural Center. The program was first launched in 1989 and has been enthusiastically carried on every year since then. For the Sheriff’s Office, it’s an opportunity to bond with children and give back to the community.
While the party officially kicked off at 7 p.m., the deputies and their families began arriving much earlier so the kids could mingle and take turns on the pony ride. Once the party was in full swing, volunteers shuffled about the room with incredible efficiency, serving up a dinner full of kid favorites -- pizza, chips and holiday treats. With full bellies and rising excitement, the kids prepared for one of the highlights of the evening -- a visit from Santa. Afterwards, it was time to hand out the presents. Then the evening ended after about 2½ hours with a parade of blue lights and sirens as the families and deputy escorts depart en-masse.
For Captain Marty Hatchett, this has been a holiday tradition for 18 years. “It’s always a fun evening for the deputies,” said Hatchett, who hosted a mother from Deltona along with her two sons, ages 6 and 8. “This let’s the kids get to know us in a positive way.
”Six-year-old Lucas didn’t hesitate when asked about the highlight of the evening. “Santa’s gonna come and I’m going to get presents.”
Says 8-year-old brother Cody of “Captain Marty,” as Hatchett is known to the kids: “He’s a nice man.”
With the party over and 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 and check on their welfare. Meanwhile, at the 100 Deputies/100 Kids party, it’s hard to tell who gets more out of the annual holiday extravaganza -- the children or the deputies.
“Just seeing the joy on the little ones’ faces makes it all worthwhile,” said Lieutenant Cliff Williams, who hosted a family with two boys, ages 9 and 14. “Most of the time, the contact we have with the public is negative. This is a positive. Tonight, everybody wins."