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.