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The Santa Parade Returns Dec. 10

For 17 years, Santa has taken time from his busy schedule to parade through the streets of Westchase.

But this parade is much more than a parade. It is a beloved annual tradition that offers the perfect opportunity to gather with neighbors for a driveway potluck party while awaiting Santa’s sleigh ride down your street. It is also an event – much like the Great West Chase and Thanksgiving Food Drive – that brings us together as a community to give back to those in need.

In fact, the parade was born out of a desire to do more for others. Dan O’Brien and Ralph Caputo launched the parade in 2005 with Santa, a firetruck, one simple float and a mission to raise awareness for the Westchase Charitable Foundation, a non-profit, volunteer-run organization dedicated to assisting those in the community who have a family member battling a serious illness or who are faced with a tragedy. The parade also offered an opportunity to do even more for the community by requesting donations of unwrapped toys from those along the parade route that were then loaded onto Santa’s sleigh and delivered to local organizations serving children in need.

A Westchase tradition was born, and then it grew.

As with any community event, it takes a dedicated team of volunteers to make the parade possible each year. Alan Shabott is one of those volunteers. Each year, Shabott and his family devote countless hours to crafting floats and costumed creations that bring joy to everyone along the parade route. It all began when Shabott spied fellow Abbotsford resident Caputo constructing that first make-shift float on the bed of a U-Haul trailer. Shabott, who had honed his construction skills with DIY projects over the years, offered to help. The next year, he ventured out on his own, and in the process became the official Abbotsford float designer. Each year, he enlists friends and family to design and build a new float. “The goal is to make a new theme every year,” he said. Those themes have ranged from a gift-wrapped boat dubbed “Ye Mystic Crew of Claus” to kid favorites like Paw Patrol and Frozen to a large-scale sleigh that celebrated an “Abbotsford Grinchmas.”

Four years ago, that sleigh came in handy when parade organizers found out at the last minute that the firetruck used to transport Santa for years was no longer available. Thankfully, the Grinch’s sleigh was the perfect fit for Santa and is now his official mode of transportation through the neighborhood.

Over the years, Shabott has also amassed dozens of mascot costumes of beloved characters like Mickey Mouse, Elmo and Olaf. Each year, a selection of those characters can be seen riding along the 6-hour parade route on floats and in the back of pick-up trucks. Shabott admitted that what began as a hobby has become more of a service. This year, he and his family will build three floats: the Santa float, the Abbotsford float and a Boy Scout float. It’s a labor of love that has become a family affair with his kids and grandkids. “They don’t have a choice,” he said with a laugh.

 

In the end, all of the effort is well worth it. “Old, young… there is such an outpouring of love from everyone,” Shabott said. “I get chills at the end of the night when I see just how many toys we’ve collected. What you see in the end makes it all worth it.”

And the effort is much appreciated by residents. Woodbay resident Emily Grime was thrilled to see the parade come down her street last year and is prepping for this year’s parade. “It was a great success. We are thankful and grateful to be included in the new route as there are many children who live in the community and were overjoyed to see Santa,” she said. “It really kicked off the season with hope and joy. The neighborhood also hosted a potluck event, so it was lovely to mingle with friends, meet new neighbors and all celebrate the upcoming holidays.”

Organizers Thank Parade Sponsors

The parade, while organized by Ralph Caputo and Brandon O’Brien, is proudly brought to you by a number of local organizations, businesses and families, who help underwrite the event’s costs and support the volunteers. These include lead sponsors, Taylor Financial and the WOW. The Westchase Community Development District’s (CDD) board of supervisors also makes the event possible by providing off-duty deputies for parade safety and traffic control. This year’s luncheon, which feeds parade volunteers during the mid-day parade break, is once again being generously hosted by the Metzger Family of Radcliffe. Food for the officers will be provided by Tampa Pizza Company.

Residents interested in participating in the parade by putting together a float can still contact parade organizers Ralph Caputo at thecaputos@yahoo.com or Brandon O’Brien at brandono850@gmail.com.

Toy Donations

Once again, unwrapped gifts will be collected along the parade route for the Boys and Girls Club of Town ‘n Country. In addition, this year, after the needs of the local organization have been met, any excess toys will go to an organization who will distribute them to children in Southwest Florida directly affected by Hurricane Ian.

Tracking Santa

Residents hoping to track Santa’s progress can save the following link, http://glympse.com/!westchasesanta, to your phone or your computer and click on it at noon on Saturday, Dec. 10.

While you are encouraged to click on the link at noon, the cursor marking Santa’s whereabouts won’t become active until roughly 2 p.m., the parade’s official start time.

Parade Route

The parade route can be found on the map running with this article. The highlighted roads in red indicate where Santa’s sleigh will travel. The length of the route and time it takes Santa to travel it makes it very difficult to add roads.

Residents are encouraged to follow the Santa tracker and greet Santa on the nearest road as he passes. Or better yet, head over to a friend’s house along the route for a holiday celebration.

All residents are invited to attend the tree lighting in West Park Village at approximately 8 p.m. There, Santa will get down from the truck, light the tree and greet the families who are gathered.

 

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