Santa’s got a Brand New Boat – Donated Christmas Toys Will Travel by Boat for Panama City Families

Dec 15, 2018

Christmas is a week away and many parents are racing to make sure they have everything ready for that special morning on the 25th. But in Panama City, families are still in recovery mode months after Hurricane Michael. Okaloosa County and local fisherman organizations have an initiative that will help bring Christmas cheer to those kids. WUWF’s Abigail Megginson has more…

Panama City is still devastated by hurricane damage and leftover debris. Salvation Army volunteers aren’t ringing their bells outside the supermarkets. Christmas trees aren’t readily available in stores. With Christmas spirit in short supply, Okaloosa County residents decided to change that for their neighbors to the east.


Operation Santa Boat is a toy drive for kids in the counties affected by Hurricane Michael. Christopher Saul is the public information officer for Okaloosa. He said the county was thinking of ways they could help residents affected by the storm.

“Our tourism department got together and started brainstorming ideas for how we could help these people over in Bay and Gulf counties because they would be doing the same thing for us if this storm had hit just 50 miles west,” Saul said.

The drive has collected nearly 1,000 toys and counting. The gifts will travel to Bay and Gulf counties on a workboat. The reason they’re going by sea is mostly for convenience.

“The roads right now are still very clogged, there’s a lot of traffic moving back and forth between Panama City just to help them recover,” Saul said. “The best way to do it to use what connects all of us.”

Kelly Windes is the District 5 county commissioner for Okaloosa. He helped organize Operation Santa Boat and his workboat will be the one to deliver the toys. For years, he was a charter boat captain and a fisherman. He believes this effort is important because bringing a smile to families and kids who have gone through so much is the least they can do.

“People have lost their jobs their homes and they’re in dire straits,” Windes said. “If anyone needs a boost, I figure it’s them.”

Kristie Lam is a mother of two from the Panama City area. Though her home survived Hurricane Michael, she sees how the destruction has left the rest of the area. Many kids don’t have any toys left after the storm. One of Lam’s close friends has a 6-year-old daughter who lost everything.

Panama City House destroyed by Hurricane Michael after it made landfall October 10.
Credit Jennie McKeon

“All of her toys were lost in her bedroom because the house fell down around us,” Lam said. “Everything in her room was completely destroyed. She keeps telling us all the time she had to leave all of her toys behind.”

Lam says seeing neighbors pitch in to organize this drive means a lot to her.

“I think their efforts are amazing, Okaloosa bringing toys for our children, I think that’s really going to help,” she said.

Operation Santa Boat has extended their deadline to donate toys until Dec. 18. Visit to find out where the drop off locations are or purchase a toy through the amazon wishlist.