CITRUS PARK – The jolly old elf might be busy preparing for his Christmas Eve run, but that’s not stopping him from taking a little time out to pay a visit to Citrus Park for a community party.
Mr. Claus is expected to arrive in sunny Florida just in time for the Christmas Santa Event hosted in The Enclave at Citrus Park on Thursday, Dec. 19. Santa’s been putting the party on his busy holiday calendar ever since Change Bridge founders Shannon and Bill Kelly began hosting it in 2009.
The party began as a way to give children and families served by Change Bridge and its partner agencies a place to celebrate the season, but has grown to become a huge community attraction, said Shannon Kelly, adding that about 4,000 people stopped by last year.
Change Bridge is a faith-based, nonprofit that provides assistance to children and families in critical need. Founded in 2009, the agency helps families meet their immediate needs for clothing, household goods and other items while also working with adults to set long-term goals toward self-sufficiency. Since it’s faith-based, Change Bridge operates solely on donations.
While the event at the Kelly family’s home began as a way to bring a little Christmas to children served by Change Bridge and other agencies, such as The Children’s Home and Metropolitan Ministries, it quickly grew, drawing crowds from near and far.
“We have nearly 1 million lights,” Shannon explained of the attraction. “My husband makes all of the Christmas decorations.”
Not meant to be just a drive-by spectacle, the party also includes “a life-sized Santa house,” a two-story gingerbread man, costumed characters, a live band, face painting, trains that run through the neighborhood, a stilt walker, face painting and lots of free popcorn, cotton candy, cookies and more. Shannon said visitors can expect a full concession stand.
“It’s all free,” Shannon said, adding that anyone is welcome to come out.
While the Kellys invest a lot of personal time and money preparing for the annual event, it’s a labor of love for them. It’s their way of giving back while helping families connect.
“There’s absolutely nothing like the experience we get – you can’t describe it,” Shannon said. “There’s something magical that happens here.”
This year’s Christmas Santa Event takes place Dec. 19 from 6 to 9 p.m. at 8861 Cameron Crest Drive in The Enclaves of Citrus Park. It’s for one night only.
For more information about the event, visit its website .