Thousands of children, many with special needs, celebrated the holiday season Wednesday as part of the annual Operation Santa at JFK Airport. As NY1's Thabie Sibanda reports, the event continues to get bigger and bigger each year.
One by one, more than 300 school buses rolled into a JFK Airport Hangar Wednesday. Each bus was filled with children excited to see Santa.
"It's a lot of fun. Even I get the chills when Santa comes in. It's a fun event to see all of the kids smiling. It just brings the Christmas spirit to all of us," said Lisa Bours, Special Education teacher at PS 16.
It's all part of Operation Santa, an event put together by the Community Mayors. The non-profit's primary focus is improving the quality of life of children with disabilities.
"The passion was instilled in me as a child by my father," said Shelley Della Rocca, Chief Mayor & President of The Community Mayors.
Della Rocca says the event has very humble beginnings. It started as a neighborhood parade with Santa as the main attraction and ended at Rocca's father's restaurant.
Operation Santa is in its 65th year. It's grown from hosting a school bus filled with children to now hosting more than 4,000 kids.
And these days, Santa arrives in style. He's traded in his reindeer and sleigh for a Delta jet. And the kids couldn’t wait to tell him just what they wanted for Christmas.
Many kids got their holiday wish granted a little early as volunteers passed out gifts. Organizers say this is all about bringing a smile onto a child's face.
"It's heartwarming and it's touching to see that there's that adrenaline rushing through their body and they know something insanely good is happening and it says it all right there. At the end of the day you know you've done something really good," said Della Rocca.
"We had a great time. It was a lot of fun. The kids really loved to see Santa Claus. They were chanting for him and we got lots of gifts to go home with as well," said Bours.
Hundreds of volunteers from several law enforcement and city agencies helped make this event go off without a hitch.