On the first Saturday in December, you can find Santa and some of his special elves at the St. Johns County School District’s Evelyn Hamblen Center. The day starts with more than 40 dedicated volunteers who arrive before sunrise and leave just in time for dinner with their families.

This year marks the district’s third annual “My Time with Santa,” an event designed specifically for students with disabilities who are unable to enjoy a typical visit with Santa due to the overwhelming noise and crowds. At “My Time with Santa” these barriers are removed. Families are given a scheduled arrival time and all volunteers are experienced in working with students with disabilities.

Upon arrival, students and families are welcomed by staff secretaries and each child receives coloring books and crayons as well as a cuddly holiday-themed blanket. They get to play games, try their hand at “North Pole Ice Fishing” and choose prizes, then enjoy that all-important visit with Santa! Every child is given a toy chosen especially for him/her and professional family pictures with Santa are taken. It’s a joy to see the students and families depart with a special keepsake photo, gifts and happy smiles.

Since “My Time with Santa” is not open to the public, participating students are nominated by special education teachers. School district staff coordinate business partners and sponsors, so no district dollars are spent on this event.

The spirit of giving in St. Johns County School District is all around apparent by the time and dedication of the staff at the Gaines Alternative and Transition School led by Principal Tish McMahon.

In addition, a special “Santa’s Milk and Cookies Corner” is served by the St. Johns County School District Food and Nutrition Service Department which prepares treats to accommodate special dietary restrictions. Several school cafeteria managers volunteer their time to bake hundreds of beautiful holiday cookies to be served to the guests. District office secretaries use their lunch time hours to wrap gifts, and school maintenance managers transport gifts and supplies to the Evelyn Hamblen Center in time for the big day.

“My Time with Santa” would not be possible without the sponsorship of Schoolhouse Products, Inc., Walmart and Leonard’s Studios. Their generosity truly reflects the spirit of the holiday season and their commitment to the students of St. Johns County.

Parent Magazine