Christmas drive-thru style at the Destin Community Center a big hit with a big Buddy

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Greeted by an energetic Buddy the Elf, nearly 100 cars packed with smiling faces made it through the lighted archway into the wonderland of lights and fun at the Destin Community Center on Thursday evening. 

During the heat of the pandemic last year, the city of Destin opted to have a drive-thru Christmas event at the community center for the children instead of the regular Christmas tree lighting ceremony with various chorus groups and others around town participating. 

Cindy Jackson and her daughter Renee Pufahl stopped to have their photo taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus during the Christmas drive-thru at the Destin Community Center.

This year, the city had the tree lighting ceremony at the community center a few weeks ago. But, because the drive-thru event was such a hit last year, they decided to roll with it again. 

“We had a great turnout,” said Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Firth Thursday evening when it was all said and done. 

More Christmas in Destin:From the highway to the waterway, Christmas came to town in Destin over the weekend

“It was a beautiful night and a great way to give back to the community at Christmas time,” she said. 

The community gave back as well. As cars passed through, they dropped off canned goods to be donated to the Harvest House. By the end of the night, two big trash cans were filled with items to be donated as well as a few cash donations. 

Mrs. Claus gives Brennan Clark a stuff animal. Clark, 6, says he would like a "Nerf gun" for Christmas.

Ninety-two vehicles with 281 people, 178 of them kids, made their way through the parking lot donned with lights and huge inflatable Christmas characters like Frosty and the Grinch. And of course, what would a Christmas party be without Santa and Mrs. Claus. 

More:Harvest House in Destin is in need of food for Christmas bags and volunteers

As the cars weaved their way through the parking lot, the children got to pick up items at different stations manned by some of the students from the Interact Club at Destin Middle School, as well as city staff. 

They handed out stockings with a list inside to fill out for Santa. At another station the kids got to pick up treat bags. Continuing through stations, they got a little arts and craft item at one, a little toy at another, before rounding the corner to experience a little snow flurry. 

Buddy the Elf was on hand to greet folks as they came through the parking lot at the Destin Community Center for the Christmas drive-thru event.

Then the cars were met with the main event, Santa in his sleigh with Mrs. Claus handing out stuffed animals to the children. 

“I want a space ship to go to the moon,” said River Shaffer. “And a small telescope” as she put her fingers close together to show just how small. 

Topping the wish list for Brennan Clark, 6, were Nerf guns.

His mother was quick to say their family likes to hunt. 

Although the night was mostly for the children, the adults had a good time as well. 

Cindy Jackson and her daughter Renee Pufahl, both of Destin, got out of their vehicle to pose for a photograph with Santa for a Christmas card. 

Olive Shaffer gets a gift from Mrs. Claus at the drive-thru event at the Destin Community Center Thursday evening.

Terry Watkins of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office was on hand for the evening to keep an eye on things. 

“You could see the eyes of people getting bigger and bigger,” Watkins said when people drove into the parking lot and saw the big Elf.  

“They were hollering Buddy, Buddy,” he said. 

Shane Baker, a Destin resident who dressed up as Buddy the elf from the Christmas film "Elf," was a big hit with young and old alike, as he greeted people with energetic waves and a huge smile. 

“I just like to smile, smiling is my favorite,” Baker said Thursday as in the movie Elf. 

And smiling seemed to be the favorite of most Thursday evening.