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Yes, Seminole County, there is a Santa Claus

Featured Photo from Yes, Seminole County, there is a Santa Claus

A little Christmas magic is all it takes to transform Longwood's Donna and Lowell Smith into Santa and Mrs. Claus. For 10 years, the couple has worked with community leaders to make sure the area's neediest children can experience a bit of that holiday magic for themselves.

There is something about the holiday season that often brings out the best in people. After all, Christmas is about love and giving of oneself to others. In Longwood, the Sanlando United Methodist Church and Seminole County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) are bringing the gift of Christmas to local children in need by sponsoring a special parade that features – you guessed it – Santa and Mrs. Claus, but this isn't your average Kris and Carol Kringle.

Donna and Lowell Smith, longtime members of the Sanlando congregation, jumped at the opportunity to play the parts of Santa and his Mrs. 10 years ago when the SCSO approached the church to help make underserved communities safer places. The church responded and is involved in many community activities throughout the year, including providing home maintenance repairs and responding to social needs in select neighborhoods. But the Christmas parade is its biggest, most visible event.

“Lowell and I were happy to play Mr. and Mrs. Claus because we knew we could touch people’s lives and spread joy during the holiday season,” says Donna, who made her Mrs. Claus costume from scratch. “When you see moms and dads crying because their kids are so happy, it’s a feeling I can’t describe.”

Lowell agrees: “We absolutely loved the idea from the start. To have the opportunity to bring smiles to children’s faces is something that only comes around a few times a year. Christmas is one of those times, and we want to make the most of it.”

The parade lasts about three hours and includes volunteers from the church and local community. During the parade, Santa and Mrs. Claus go door-to-door in neighborhoods chosen by the Sheriff's Office, handing out presents to the children. The toys, which are donated by local Walmart stores and church parishioners, are collected by the SCSO, sorted by age and gender, decoratively wrapped, and placed in a large trailer for the parade. Santa and Mrs. Claus ride in the back of a huge Hummer provided by the SCSO, whose officers are also there to spread holiday cheer.

“It’s really about the connection to community that is nurtured throughout the year,” says Jonathan Tarman, pastor of Sanlando United Methodist Church. “It’s about restoring hope in underserved communities and letting them know we're working to engage and help them.”

Tony Bower is a church member who helps repair and maintain homes in the same underserved communities that are chosen for the parade. He sees first-hand the challenges that come with generational poverty, including despair, drug abuse, and crime.

“Knowing someone cares has a huge impact on these communities,” Tony says. “It provides hope and a brighter outlook when they see other people care. Being there, even in the smallest way, makes a huge difference in their lives.”

For Donna and Lowell, who have been married for 34 years, the parade is the highlight of their year.

“We walk up to every house and interact with the families,” says Donna. “The kids are so excited they open their gifts right then and there, and they always love them.”

For Lowell, he sees the impact of the parade – and the acts of kindness he, his wife, and others in the community perform – as part of what Christmas is all about.

“Especially during this time of year, seeing those children happy is incredibly touching to me,” Lowell says. “I’m planning on being Santa for as long as I can.”

Photo caption:

Donna and Lowell Smith cherish the opportunity to dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and bring smiles to children’s faces. They work with the Seminole County Sheriff's Office to go door-to-door in underserved neighborhoods to spread holiday cheer.

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