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Kids cheer Santa’s arrival at Sandbar

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Santa arrives Dec. 13 to the Sandbar Restaurant and the Lawton Chiles Christmas Party via a Jet-Ski driven by a Manatee County Marine Rescue lifeguard. In other years, Santa arrived to the Sandbar on a fire truck, in the bed of a pickup truck, on an ATV and with a parasail. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff

Guests of the Sandbar Restaurant’s Lawton Chiles Christmas Parade arrive to a greeting from the Anna Maria Island Privateers.

Santa and the Christmas party crowd parade across the sand toward the Sandbar pavilion.

SpongeBob SquarePants and Maria Lizana, 5, take spin the beach.

Sparky the clown works on a balloon toy.

Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar Restaurant, celebrates at the Christmas party named for his late father, Lawton Chiles.

Jubilant kids, hands waving in the air, smiles on their faces, ran to the shore, all shouting, “Santa!”

        Santa’s sleigh had broken down in the Gulf of Mexico waters, but a rescue was in progress, according to the loud speaker at the Sandbar Restaurant pavilion in Anna Maria just before noon on Dec. 13.

        Minutes later, after a collective sigh from the 91 children attending the 18th Annual Lawton Chiles Christmas for Kids Party, a Jet-Ski roared to the shore with Santa and his bag full of toys.

        And all was well with partygoers at the Sandbar, 100 Spring Ave.

        Each child received a personalized gift, with a new outfit and pair of shoes, and gift certificates for a complete holiday dinner for their family.

        The party featured the Anna Maria Island Privateers greeting guests with goody bags and shiny beaded necklaces, Spiderman, who “took a day off from fighting crime to come to the beach,” Frosty the Snowman, Clifford, the Big Red Dog, Sponge Bob SquarePants, Winnie the Pooh, Big Bird, other kid-friendly characters, and, of course, Santa’s elves.

        The party also included lunch for the kids, games, rock-climbing, face-painting and craft-making.

        Those invited included 56 children from Healthy Families of Manatee County, a nonprofit serving families with children from prenatal age and up, and about 35 from Headstart programs and other special invitees.

        Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar and son of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, also attended the event, and described it as a “fun, fun thing.”

        Chiles said the event, now in its 18th year, was named for his father after the 13th year.

        “He was all about kids. He was in politics to help kids from start to end,” he added. Chiles said his father supported prenatal care for moms, helping the less fortunate and measures to stem infant mortality.

        “The economic challenges we all face are felt much deeper by many of these families, so this year’s party will provide some relief for families trying to provide a semblance of Christmas for their children,” according to a Sandbar press release.

        A Sandbar press release suggested community donations to help cover the party’s expenses could be made to Sandbar Restaurant, Chiles Group, Attn: Christmas for Kids Party, P.O. Box 1478, Anna Maria FL 34216.

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