By Lori Leath Smith
Anyone can be a Holiday Hero when they help those in need in our community. As always during the holiday season, there is an ongoing need for giving or volunteering. Many children don’t have enough food to eat over a weekend, much less over Thanksgiving or Christmas. Some just want Santa to visit them. Some have no beds or gifts. Many homeless veterans go without a warm meal all year long.
Okaloosa County has a food insecurity rate of 12.3 percent among children younger than 18 and Walton County is at 12.6 percent (source: Feeding America), slightly lower than last year, but still too high. Though many families in our area are struggling to get by, we can bless them with an extra boost this holiday season. Fortunately, we are a generous and compassionate community that pulls together for its own. Below are ways you, too, can be a Holiday Hero this season:
It’s that time of year for The Salvation Army. Ready to help you help others with its popular Angel Trees, Angels (children 0-12 years old) are available for adoption beginning November 18th at all the Walmart Stores in Okaloosa and Walton Counties as well as Bass Pro Shop Destin, Ashley Home Furniture Crestview and Ft. Walton, AJ’s on the Bayou in Fort Walton Beach and Chick-fil-a Niceville. Simply pick a tag off a tree and return your Angel’s gifts to any of the above locations or drop off at the Thrift Store, 425 Mary Esther Cutoff, Fort Walton Beach, by December 9th. If your business would like to adopt some Angels, please call Laura Beeman, (850) 243-4531 x20.
Have you ever had to sleep without a bed? Some in our community do. Why not put some sparkle into a child’s holiday this year? A Bed 4 Me invites you to help provide beds for children in Okaloosa and Walton counties this season. $10-$25 Walmart gift cards can purchase pillows, bedding go towards the purchase of a bed. $300 sponsors a full bed kit and helps with operational expenses. A Bed 4 Me has provided beds to thousands of children in our community since 2016. To help, visit abed4me.org where you can donate in any amount.
Food For Thought (FFT) provides year-round programs to bridge the meal gap in the lives of the food-insecure children they serve, but it’s especially needed during the holidays. You can help by sponsoring a family for the holidays. Food for Thought will provide holiday services during Christmas school holiday breaks, feeding over 700 families during each holiday, distributing 30,000 pantry staples and more than 11,000 lbs. of produce. Families supported by Food for Thought programs throughout Okaloosa and Walton Counties will be provided food to prepare meals to support their students’ needs while they are out of school for a week, which is about 10 meals they will miss. To enroll, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To volunteer or donate, please visit www.fftfl.org.
At Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC), 1,585 kids were assisted in 2022. This giving season, you can make a child’s Christmas by helping to stock ECCAC’s toy room for families and agency partners to “shop!” Purchase items from ECCAC “wish lists” or shop for items yourself. Contact Hailey@eccac.org to schedule your drop-off and drop off at one of ECCAC’s locations: Niceville Chamber Office, 1055 John Sims Pkwy E, Niceville or Pierce Family ECCAC, 336 College Ave, DeFuniak Springs. Visit eccac.org.
Children in Crisis, our community non-profit charity committed to providing homes and keeping brothers and sisters together, is asking all of the wonderful local Christmas elves to help with their kiddo’s Christmas lists. Simply visit https://a.co/0UDgndl to shop from the Amazon Wish List! Please deliver your gifts by noon on Dec. 22 to 1000 Luke’s Way, Fort Walton Beach. Call 850-864-4242 or email Info@childrenincrisisFL.org for more information. childrenincrisisfl.org
The Angel Tree Program, a collaborative effort of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officers (SROs) and the OCSO Sheriff’s Star Charity, is in full gear! SROs provide a list of names of children within their schools whose families may be experiencing financial hardship and could benefit from the program. Children fill out a wish list with their SRO and guidance counselor asking for things such as bikes, video games, new pajamas or socks. OCSO employees purchase gifts, but you can help by making a monetary donation to help fulfill the wish lists. Since the program began in 2010, more than 1,000 Okaloosa County children have received special deliveries from their SRO before Christmas. To donate, contact Brian Muhlbach, PIO for the Sheriff’s Star Charity, at email@example.com or visit ocsostarcharity.com.
Help support the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) in its annual Santa Patrol Mission, helping the less fortunate families in our area this Holiday Season. Santa Patrol’s goal is to seek out those in the community with a need and lighten the burden of providing Christmas to their Children. Santa Patrol accepts NEW and UNWRAPPED toys, games, crafts and art supplies for all ages. Gift cards to clothing stores, hygiene items and hoodies or jackets in all sizes for ages newborn to 18 years. Please contact event director Cblackerby@absolutecamservices.com to schedule a drop off through Dec. 15. You can also make a monetary donation at WCSO on PayPal.
Fatboy’s and Holi Indian Restaurant has launched a month-long non-perishable food drive spanning all of its locations, benefitting different local hunger relief organizations throughout the area. The campaign runs now through December 23, 2023. Fatboy’s Miramar Beach and Destin locations as well as Holi’s Miramar Beach location will support Destin Harvest. Patrons are invited to participate in Fatboy’s efforts this holiday season by bringing nonperishable and canned food items to receive 20% off their meal. To make the donation process as convenient as possible, labeled boxes will be placed in each Fatboy’s location for the collection of donated items.
The 3rd Planet Brewing Bike Club in Niceville is fulfilling Christmas wish lists of the residents of Twin Cities Pavilion this year. After personally obtaining their Christmas wishes, they’ve displayed those wishes on a special Christmas tree in the brewery’s taproom. You can choose a resident and fulfill their gift requests or choose items from a list of essentials the pavilion needs. To keep track, patrons are asked to leave their contact information with the bartender to match the gifts with the residents.