The holiday spirit is alive and well at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
Santa Claus flew into JFK, and dozens of TSA team members took on the role of serving as Santa’s elves, helping spread holiday cheer to over 4,000 children with special needs.
The kids were treated to a huge celebration at the airport.
For the 17th straight year, TSA JFK partnered with New York’s Community Mayors for Children With Special Needs, a volunteer organization that provides opportunities for mentally and physically challenged children to experience and enjoy events that stimulate their interest and lift their spirits.
TSA officers screened hundreds of people who came to help wish the kids a happy holiday season and secured the area where volunteers handed out toys to the children, served refreshments and helped celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with a big holiday parade, highlighted by Macy’s Santa Claus flying in to greet everyone. Several area high school marching bands also participated in the parade.
“Operation Santa at JFK is one of those events I am very proud to say I have been a part of for the past 25 years,” said TSA Acting JFK Administrative Officer Michael Laxton. “Throughout the past few years, organizers and other government and state agencies have seen firsthand that Team TSA JFK has the finest group of men and women in their ranks.”
Laxton said it’s a big partnership between TSA; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the State Department; FBI; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; New York Police, Fire, Department of Education, and Sanitation Department; and New York State Courts.
The massive event took place in JFK’s Hangar 19, and TSA Officer Jamie Lai called it a sweet and thrilling experience for the children.
“It was definitely an unforgettable memory for the kids to see an airplane up close in the hangar, the anticipation of Santa’s arrival was emotional, and it was touching to see the kids light up and smile from ear to ear,” Lai described.
Supervisory TSA Officer Anisa Telesford Sponsper was especially impressed that Santa took a train around the hangar making sure to greet all the kids.
“The event was a great way to show appreciation to the children around our community,” said Telesford Sponsper. “I hope people in the community can see our commitment to be involved in community affairs. So many departments came together to support Operation Santa and the children.”
For TSA Cargo Inspector Isabelle Taylor, it was her sixth year volunteering for Operation Santa, which she called “a rewarding experience.”
“There is no greater feeling than to know you are putting a smile on a child’s face and a glee in their little hearts,” Taylor noted. “I honestly feel I am the one truly receiving the blessings and true gift of the holiday spirit.”
Lai hopes to volunteer for more events like this.
“We treat all persons equally no matter who they are,” said Lai. “TSA’s involvement shows travelers with disabilities, medical conditions and other circumstances that we assist all individuals with care during the screening process.”
“Organizers recognized Team TSA JFK for their participation in assisting the mentally and physically challenged special needs children at Operation Santa,” Laxton said. “I am very proud of the job the team did this year.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs