FORT WALTON BEACH — The Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau is spreading holiday cheer to neighbors in Northwest Florida with Operation Santa Boat, a philanthropic effort designed to brighten the season for residents in Bay and Gulf counties who were impacted by Hurricane Michael.

Through Dec. 15, Operation Santa Boat is rallying residents and businesses in Okaloosa County, as well as visitors and beyond, to donate unwrapped gifts for children and adults. Gifts donated to Operation Santa Boat will be delivered to Bay and Gulf counties before Christmas by local fishing captains using something that connects the region: the Gulf of Mexico.

On Oct. 10, Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle, devastating communities in its direct path. The storm’s destruction will make celebrating the holidays challenging for hundreds of families, particularly those in Bay and Gulf counties. Inspired by the maritime culture of Okaloosa County, the Emerald Coast CVB created Operation Santa Boat not just for hurricane aid, but to help spread happiness and share the special feeling of the holidays with their neighbors, especially those in need.

“There is no region like Northwest Florida,” said Jennifer Adams, executive director of the Emerald Coast CVB. “Our maritime culture has built a strong and resilient community tied together by faith, family and friendship. Being a good neighbor is a way of life here, and the Gulf is what keeps us connected. We look forward to delivering the gifts donated to Operation Santa Boat to Bay and Gulf counties with the help of our charter captains that know our waterways so well. Everyone deserves to have a Merry Christmas.”

Operation Santa Boat received its first bulk gift of presents Wednesday, courtesy of Five Star Resorts and Saltwater Restaurants. More than 200 gifts were given in order to improve the holiday season for residents of Bay and Gulf Counties who received the brunt of Hurricane Michael in early October.

The Emerald Coast CVB has partnered with a number of local organizations to kick Operation Santa Boat into high gear. To make participation easy for everyone, the Emerald Coast CVB has created www.OperationSantaBoat.com, with everything needed to make a donation.


An Amazon Wish List has been created at https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/3OG6JYFCJZDBT
Six Operation Santa Boat collection points are located throughout Okaloosa County: the Emerald Coast Convention Center, Destin Commons, Emerald Grande, Okaloosa County Administration Office in Shalimar, Brackin Building in Crestview and Emerald Coast Marine in Niceville.
Donations can also be made at a series of holiday events including Project Holiday Concert, Holiday on the Harbor and Destin Boat Parade, and Santa Cause Pub Crawl at HarborWalk Village.
A volunteer sign-up sheet for area residents and businesses to volunteer at an Operation Santa Boat collection point or help load boats with gifts prior to travel.

For more information about Operation Santa Boat, the maritime traditions of the Emerald Coast, or visiting the region throughout the year, please visit EmeraldCoastFL.com.