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Fort Walton Beach Police host expanded ‘Winter Wonderland’ toy drive at NWF Fairgrounds 

The Fort Walton Beach Police Department will host its annual Winter Wonderland event Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8-9, from 6-9 p.m. at the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds.  What started as just […]

City of Fort Walton Beach Public Information Office

The Fort Walton Beach Police Department will host its annual Winter Wonderland event Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8-9, from 6-9 p.m. at the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds. 

  • For the first time in its history, the free event has expanded to two days at the new location after outgrowing its previous venue at Chester Pruitt Park. 

What started as just six holiday-decorated pallet houses in 2020 has now grown to an impressive 40 elaborate structures sponsored by local businesses and charities.

“It started in 2020 with six houses. We moved it over to Chester Pruitt Park last year where we had 30 houses and this year it’s grown to 40,” said Lt. Kendra Stalls, who has helped organize the event since its inception. “So honestly, it was easier to get it out to the fairgrounds for electricity and size.” 

Stalls said the police department could no longer accommodate the Winter Wonderland at Chester Pruitt Park due to the growth in both displays and attendance numbers over the years. The spacious fairgrounds will provide more room for activities, parking, electricity access and all 40 pallet house displays along “Pallet House Lane.”

Giving Back to the Community 

The Winter Wonderland event asks attendees to donate a new, unwrapped toy on Dec. 8 that will benefit Toys for Tots. On Dec. 9, donors are asked to contribute items from a wish list for two nonprofits: the Gulf Coast Sexual Assault Program and Road Dogg Rescue. 

  • Donors will receive a raffle ticket for each item or $10 donation.

“We never thought that such a small idea would turn into such a grand vision, and we couldn’t do it without the community,” said Lt. Brandon Chapin. “We are just beyond words that the community is willing to come out, donate, and outreach in this way to make sure that kids who may not otherwise have a Christmas get one.”  

Chapin said one of his favorite parts of Winter Wonderland is seeing local children interact with police officers and community partners in a relaxed, festive atmosphere — giving them positive associations with law enforcement.

“We don’t want them to just think that the only time that police show up is when something bad is happening,” added Chapin. “We want to share the idea with them that giving back to your community is an important thing, and this is the best way we know how to do it.”  

Lt. Stalls said her favorite part of the event is watching the line form before opening the gates to the event.

  • “You’ll see people lining up for a mile, waiting for the gates to open to be able to get into the event,” she said. “And that, for me, has really been my favorite part and makes this week that leads up to Winter Wonderland that much easier to get it done.”

What to Expect

This year’s event will feature the aforementioned 40 pallet houses sponsored and decorated by local businesses and charities lining “Pallet House Lane.” Structures will sport elaborate holiday themes and characters sure to impress attendees and compete for this year’s “best pallet house” as judged by a guest judge on Saturday night. 

Other activities inside the B-Building include holiday movies shown by projector, games, bounce houses, the new “wrapping paper hockey” game, vendors, concessions, and visits with Santa Claus and the Grinch.  

  • Outside, guests can enjoy music, food trucks, specialty police vehicles, the interactive GellyBall game, giveaways, and photos with officers.

Connection to Community

Both Stalls and Chapin emphasized that Winter Wonderland connects Fort Walton Beach police to the community in profound ways — forging positive relationships, giving back and creating joyful memories.

This year promises to be the biggest and best Winter Wonderland experience yet for residents across the city. The magic begins when the doors open at 6 p.m. this Friday and Saturday night as the police department’s wonderland vision continues growing brighter. 

Admission is free and open to the public.

Major sponsors providing monetary donations for this year’s event include Emerald Air, Four Seasons Heating and Air, Step One Automotive, Gary Smith Honda and Lee Nissan. 

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Community Comments

“Agreed…that was our favorite spot for locals to go…under the Marler bridge…to swim and watch the boat traffic. Was beautiful!”
“I have heard this before but without the details. Thanks.”
“That was a good story it brought back a lot of good memories. I lived there about 35 years ago met some good people ate a lot of good food...”
“Please open our bridge under neath the Destin bridge please we grew up here only for the locals this is crazy honestly the locals really have Nowhere they can go...”
“We must do whatever it takes to remove the current sheriff. He is a failed leader, no doubt about it nothing but an excuse maker, totally incompetent in over his...”
“...and food for enjoyment! Big smile.”
“can okaloosa county residents can get a year pass for henderson beach park?”
“Congratulations on giving back to your community. This is an awesome need when young people are returning to school. Blessings over blessings to you this upcoming season.”
“I’m not at all a sociallist or liberal. I just want safety for myself and others. Ron Desantis pledged money for this. I was refrencing Europe in regards to e-bike...”