By LOIS KINDLE
Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation is bringing Santa to the Apollo Beach Recreation Center Florida-style Dec. 9. Arriving in a golf cart at 7:30 p.m., he’ll give a small gift to every child 10 and younger who comes to meet him.
St. Nick’s visit is part of the 27th annual Holiday in the Park celebration, which will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. The free, children’s event will include a skateboarding contest; raffle for prizes like bikes, basketballs or footballs (every child gets a ticket); hot dog dinner, chips and bottle of water; and the lighting of the annual Christmas tree in honor of longtime recreation leader Eleanor Mayweather, who died in 1995. The evergreen was planted years ago in her memory through donations made by children at the park.
Adding to the festivities will be holiday songs and Christmas carols sung by the Ruskin Recreation Carolers and Apollo Beach Elementary School Choir.
Registration for the skateboarding contest is at 6 p.m. There are four age categories: Ages 8 and younger; 9 to 12; 13 to 15; and 16 and older. Zumiez gift cards will be awarded the first-place winners.
All skaters must have an up-to-date waiver and a helmet. Those 12 and younger must also wear elbow and knee pads.
“Parks and Recreation actively hosts this event each year to show our continued support and dedication to the community,” said Dana McDonald, senior special event coordinator. “We pride ourselves in giving back to our constituents.”
McDonald said the department’s aim is give all South Shore children the opportunity to meet Santa, and get a free toy and meal. All kids are welcome, regardless of where they live in the South Shore area.
“It originally started as a small community gathering,” McDonald said, noting the event quickly turned into a holiday tradition. “We are thankful for the community and those who we serve.”
The first Holiday in the Park took place in 1989. It was initially organized by the Apollo Beach Chamber of Commerce and taken over by the all-volunteer Apollo Beach Focus Group in 1990. Its current planning event committee includes parks department staff and members of the focus group, Friends of the County Parks and the Gleaners Life Insurance Agency Bay Area Arbor.
“We will be supplying the (food), Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves and 42 volunteers to help with the event,” said Beverly Hiller, Arbor president. In addition to sponsoring Holiday in the Park for the past six years, the Gleaners’ Arbor supports other community events and nonprofit organizations.
Friends of the County Parks, also a Holiday in the Park sponsor, is supplying all the raffle prizes and gifts from Santa.
More than 1,400 area residents are expected to turn out this year.
The Apollo Beach Park and Recreation Center is at 664 Golf & Sea Blvd., Apollo Beach. Hours of operation are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday indoors and sunrise to 9 p.m. outdoors. Amenities include a basketball court, dog park, fitness center, tennis court, picnic shelters, sand volleyball court and skate park. The park is bicycle- and pet-friendly.
For additional information on Holiday in the Park, call the Apollo Beach Recreation Center at 813-671-7635.