Nearly 500 kids flooded into Curtis Park on Wednesday morning for the annual Miami Police Holiday Celebration.
Exuberant students ages 5-10 jumped in bounce houses, scampered up climbing walls and chased each other across the football field in a carefree morning of holiday fun, culminating with a visit from the man of the season: Santa.
This is the 18th year Miami police have invited underprivileged children to enjoy a holiday party, organized by the Police Athletic League. With donations from corporate sponsors including Walmart, Target and Winn Dixie among others, police officers bought more than 600 toys, cutting their Thanksgiving short to brave the Black Friday crowds. The police department was then transformed into Santa’s workshop as officers individually wrapped each present, labeled with a child’s name, age and school.
The students who got to participate were chosen from 32 Miami elementary schools, identified by their teachers based on economic need.
Shenandoah Elementary school counselor Silvia Diaz sat in a circle on the side of the football field with about 15 students munching on pizza and nachos. Earlier that morning, she’d told the selected students that they were “going on a field trip to the park.” They didn’t know they would meet Santa or that two of them would leave with a new bike.
“They’re super excited,” Diaz said. “Even when they were just sitting in the bleachers before everything started, they were like, ‘This is the best field trip ever!’ ”
In addition to the presents that were chosen for girls and boys of different ages, the kids also got science-themed figurines donated by toy company Safari and a bag of candy wrapped by Girl Scout troop 1239.
At around noon, a police car pulled into the park with lights flashing. The kids went wild.
Santa, no doubt suffering in his North Pole outfit on the 80-degree South Florida afternoon, worked the crowd like a politician — shaking hands, granting wishes and posing for pictures. He took the stage with bags of presents divided by school and 20 brand new bikes to be raffled off.
“Are y’all ready for Christmas?” Santa yelled into the microphone.
“Yeah!” 500 kids yelled back.
“Have you been good this year?”
“Well I guess I’ll be visiting each of your houses soon…”
As a police lieutenant read the names of children who would receive bikes, the winners jumped out of the bleachers, ran down to shake Santa’s hand and wheeled their new bikes over to the tent where volunteers from Jackson Memorial gave each proud bike rider a free helmet.
Danielle Bertin, 9, of Morningside Elementary School, couldn’t stop smiling as she waited patiently with her new turquoise and white bike. She ran her fingers along the smooth frame and pretended to steer the handlebars like a racecar driver. A fourth-grader at Morningside Elementary, Danielle said she was going to ride her new bike with her dad in a park near her Little Haiti home. She’d never had a bike before, but she said she wasn’t afraid to try to learn.
“My brother is 15 and he has a bike,” she said. “He likes to teach me stuff like new things and geometry.”