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Date of Issue: December 26, 2007

Chiles party makes kids merry

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Sand, Santa, Sillies
Santa met up with some local clowns at the Lawton Chiles Christmas for Kids party at the Sandbar Restaurant last week. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Ed Chiles remembers when the gift of a set of walkie talkies made his day.

Last week, Chiles, along with others in the Chiles group of restaurants and a legion of volunteers, helped make the day for 143 children in Manatee County.

"I'm hoping for Hot Wheels," said Victor Rangel, 10, as he stood on the sand in the new pavilian at Chiles' Sandbar restaurant and watched Santa Claus hand out more than a sleigh-full of gifts.

One by one, children at the 14th annual Lawton Chiles Christmas for Kids Party walked up a set of steps to hug Santa Claus and to accept a bag of gifts - a toy, a pair of shoes, an outfit of clothing and a certificate for holiday dinner fixings from Albertsons supermarket.

Chiles said the attendance for the traditional party was larger than years past and has grown tremendously since 25 children attended the first event named for his father, the late governor.

"They do such a great job," Chiles said of the staff and volunteer team, which was led by Sandbar manager Patti McKee.

Children attended from the Head Start program and Healthy Families Manatee, which Lawton Chiles helped found in 1998.

When the children arrived to the Anna Maria restaurant, they encountered clowns bearing gift bags loaded with prizes and Anna Maria Island Privateers with bead necklaces for presents.

Under the Sandbar pavilion, children made crafts, tossed bean bags and studied clowns making balloon animals. On the beach, kids dug for treasure, especially the hidden starfish that would win them big teddy bears.

"There's a lot of cool stuff to do," said Tiffany Sielaff, who brought her 2-year-old daughter, Amari, to the party. Sielaff said this Christmas "would probably be Amari's first memorable Christmas."

Lunch - chicken fingers and french fries - arrived at about noon, eaten at most tables with lots of ketchup.

Soon after, Santa Claus arrived on a West Manatee Fire Rescue fire truck. He stepped off to be embraced by children, as well as a number of costumed adults - pirates, elves, the Cat in the Hat, Spiderman, Elmo, Shrek, Blue's Clues and Raggedy Ann.