Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cold Can't Put Chill on Hot Quest for Toys Christmas Party Is a Chance for 10,000 Children to Garner Gifts

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cold Can't Put Chill on Hot Quest for Toys Christmas Party Is a Chance for 10,000 Children to Garner Gifts

Article excerpt

Byline: Rich Tucker, Times-Union staff writer

Pam Grant isn't a very convincing liar.

"The cold doesn't bother me," she said, placing her blanket over the sleeping body of her 22-month-old daughter, Brooke. A hint of blue in Brooke's mom's lips betrayed her bravado.

The Grants were the first to arrive for the third annual Children's Christmas Party of Jacksonville, getting to the Prime Osborn Center at 9 p.m. Friday -- a full 12 hours before the doors opened to 10,000 children.

"Just as long as my kids have something. They're not picky," Grant said. "I went to the mall to take my little boy to see Santa, and I heard another little boy say, 'If I don't get this, I hate you.' That's not what Christmas is about."

Grant works for Winn-Dixie, her husband, Russell, for Tyson. Even with both of them working, the bills make it hard to keep their heads above water. Russell Grant works the graveyard shift, but he arrived around 4:30 a.m. yesterday to keep his wife company and watch their three boys, who retreated to the car to sleep.

Temperatures dipped into the low 40s Friday night in Jacksonville, but by 6 a.m. thousands of children and parents were packed in, waiting for their Christmas.

. A non-profit organization that solicits donations from area corporations, the public Jacksonville Christmas party this year bought more than $200,000 in toys.

Event planners work hard to discourage parents from waiting outside all night. Toys are rationed so children have similar selections from which to choose regardless of when they arrive. And bicycles, the only gift in short supply, are awarded by raffle.

Still, the veterans say it is best to arrive early when Christmas is at stake.

"I'm not begging," Tee Riley said. "I'm waiting. I'm not hurting anybody, and I'd wait three days in the cold so my kids could have a beautiful Christmas."

As the doors opened at 9 a.m., impatient kids pushed and shoved a little, but the image of a man in a red suit kept everyone behaving. Within a few seconds, Marines and volunteers from area high schools started directing the crowd to the toys.

By this time, the Grants were nowhere near the front of the line, but they still made it inside with the first group. …

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