BRANDON — Local entertainment, Radio Disney and Santa Claus himself are set to herald in the holiday season at Providence Park West, with the lighting of a Christmas tree and a WinterFest fundraiser aimed to benefit charities supported by the Brandon Foundation.
The Riverview location is new for WinterFest, which last year was held less than a mile away at Winthrop Town Centre, at the corner of Bloomingdale Avenue and Providence Road. This year’s event, at 5417 Providence Road, is presented by Brandon Foundation volunteers in partnership with Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation, under the title sponsorship of AutoNation Nissan.
WinterFest opens 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6 and 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, with festivities ending each night at 10. The Christmas tree lighting is set for 9 p.m. Saturday, in front of “Santa Land,” situated in the heart of the field adjacent to the park building.
“We’re really excited to be able to use the field. It’s a huge asset,” said Rich Strehl, executive director of the Brandon Foundation, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary. “Santa Land is a prop Hills- borough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation has used at other Christmas events, and this year they’re bringing it here. They’re also providing the stage.”
WinterFest is one of four major fundraisers staged by the foundation each year to raise money for local charities.
“It’s the final event of the year,” Strehl said. “Our other signature fundraisers are the Charity Golf Classic, the Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival and the annual dinner and charity check presentation. We were able to give $100,000 back to the community through grants this year and WinterFest last year played a role in helping to raise that money.”
At this year’s dinner, Nov. 2, 17 charities received checks from the foundation, including the Brandon Outreach Clinic, Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center, Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO), Wheels for Success and Voices for Children. The deadline to apply for 2014 grants is Sept. 1, with funding earmarked for groups focused on health, human services and social needs.
A portion of his year’s WinterFest proceeds will be earmarked for the not-for-profit Friends of Hillsborough County Parks. “They have agreed to ensure that the funds will be used in Eastern Hillsborough County parks,” Strehl added.
At WinterFest, the Brandon Foundation Angel Program will be accepting gas, grocery and other gift cards “for families in need, who are hurting,” Strehl said. Angel aid is earmarked for people who face life-threatening diseases or who face a catastrophic event, such as a death in the family or the burning down of a house.
“The Angel Program is service-driven and that’s why we like gift cards,” Strehl said. “The majority of our ‘angels’ are lawn-care and pool-service providers and painters, electricians and plumbers. We will be collecting, too, unwrapped, new toys for children in the community who might not otherwise have gifts to open on Christmas.”
Admission to WinterFest is free. Attendees will pay for activities and food, including elephant ears, funnel cakes, chicken-on-a-stick and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.
“The way we raise our money is through sponsors, craft vendors and food vendors, and we’re going to have bounce houses and carnival games,” Strehl said. “Also, a youth BMX exhibit, for young kids, who will be assisted over an obstacle course and ramps, with bikes provided.”
Back-to-back entertainment will be provided on the stage sponsored and named for the Brandon Broncos, Strehl said. Radio Disney, with its interactive show, will take the stage 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7 to 10 p.m. Dec. 7.
The Christmas tree lighting ceremony is set to begin at 9 p.m. Dec. 7.
“We do have one special guest,” Strehl added. “He’s coming all the way from the North Pole. He comes in a red suit and his name’s Santa Claus and he is going to be available for a photo opportunity.” The photos, Strehl said, will be available for purchase and for delivery to family members “wherever they are in the world.”
And for those kids who might miss their visit with Santa, no worries. On hand, too, Strehl said, will be “an official North Pole letter drop.”
Visit the Brandon Foun- dation at www.brandon foundation.com for additional information.