Santa's North Pole flight cheers Manatee County children

jdeleon@bradenton.comDecember 13, 2013 

MANATEE -- He's making a list, he's checking it twice. He's going to find out if you're naughty or nice.

For terminally ill children in Manatee County, though, Santa finished his list early."He gave me a guitar," Jayden Albritton exclaimed. "I can't wait."

Looking forward to going home and practicing on her new toy, the 7-year-old and her twin sister, Savannah Albritton, were bursting with excitement having just seen Santa.

The two girls were among the many smiling faces at the 29th Annual Flight to the North Pole event Thursday at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

Held at the airport fire station, the event featured lunch for children and their parents, horse rides, craft stations and, of course, a visit with Santa that included gifts.

The event is a welcome tradition for parents.

"It's a huge help," Dawn Albritton said. "It gives them an opportunity they don't normally have and it's good to see all the kids that don't normally get out."

Many parents are also grateful for the socialization.

"It's good because kids see other kids functioning in normal society," Matt Patton said.

His daughter, Emma Patton, 5, was anxiously awaiting to see Santa. On Emma's wish list, a baby doll.

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube escorted Santa from his helicopter.

"This is what Christmas is all about," Steube said.

The Flight to the North Pole started as a joint effort with the former Eastern Airlines. The Manatee County Sheriff's Office has continued the tradition.

"These are children that have had a rough life and if we can provide them a little joy by riding a horse, seeing Santa, walking on a police boat, then that's why we do it," Steube said.

Brothers Jaden Hamilton, 8, and Omari Evans, 7, look forward to this event every year, according to their mother and grandmother.

"This is the best day ever," Omari said. "We got to see Santa."

"They were happier than if it were really Christmas," grandmother Ditha Simmons said.

The Tabernacle Christian School Children's Choir was performed at the holiday celebration.

"It just means so much to spread the word of God," Naomi Rivera, 11 said. "It made me realize all the things I take for granted."

Naomi said she enjoyed watching all the other children have a good time while having some fun herself.

"Our class got to sing to all the kids," she said.

Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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