A big day of activities is on tap for Dec. 7, as the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office hosts the 26th annual Ride and Run with the Stars at Fort De Soto Park, 3500 Bayway S. in Tierra Verde.

The $5 parking fee will be waived for participants.

Since 1993, the event has raised funds for the Sheriff’s Christmas Sharing Project to help children and families in need have a brighter holiday season.

The main events are the rides and runs, including a 25-mile bike ride beginning at 8 a.m., 10K family ride at 8:15 a.m., 5K chipped race at 8:30 a.m. and a 1-mile fun walk or skate starting at 8:45 a.m. Bike helmets are required.

Registration begins at 7 a.m. or register online at www.RideandRunwiththeStars.com. Cost of registration with a T-shirt is $35 and $40 for the 5K chipped race. A T-shirt is guaranteed for the first 700. For more information, visit the website.

The top three finishers from designated age groups will be recognized. Grand prizes are high-quality bicycles.

Other family-friendly activities include a K9 demonstration at 9:30 a.m., silent auction that closes at 10:30 a.m., and the all-time favorite, the arrival of Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves in the sheriff’s helicopter scheduled at 10 a.m.

The silent auction includes items and giveaways donated by event sponsors. In past years, items have included bicycles, kayaks, cycling equipment, gift cards to local restaurants and more.

An “Everest Challenge” climbing wall will be set up for all ages to enjoy, as well as a Kids Corner with crafts. Sponsors and local restaurants will provide food to registered participants. Food trucks will be on site.

Sgt. Elizabeth Brady, who is the contact for the event, as well as sponsorship opportunities and giveaways, said everyone always enjoys Ride and Run with the Stars. The majority of participants have been coming for years, she said.

“There’s something for everyone,” said Sandra Garcia-Olivares, a victim advocate at the sheriff’s office. “It’s really a fun day.”

Garcia-Olivares is coordinating the Sheriff’s Christmas Sharing Project, which is the beneficiary of the funds raised during Ride and Run with the Stars.

She said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is very passionate about the project because it is a way to give back to the community. And the success of the project relies on the community.

Helping those in need

Ride and Run with the Stars is the largest law enforcement organized holiday charity fundraiser in the Tampa Bay area. It has raised more than $600,000 in the past 25 years. The money goes to provide food, clothing and toys for underprivileged and crime-stricken children and families.

These children and families are those that the sheriff’s office knows firsthand of their need, Garcia-Olivares said. Community policing deputies, school resource officers, crossing guards and child protection workers, who have come into contract with them during the course of their work, recommend the families and children.

The families are then reviewed using the project’s guidelines. They are eligible for one-time assistance, which is not a concrete rule, Garcia-Olivares said. She said a family might receive help a second time if their circumstances change. She gave an example of a family that received assistance a second time because they lost everything in a fire.

The families fill out an inquiry form with information including number of children, ages, clothes sizes, hobbies and interests. They also get to list four gifts they would like to receive. Garcia-Olivares provided the list received on one application this year, which included clothes, shoes, a football, a doll and arts and crafts.

She said most of the lists had items that were more needs rather than wants, such as clothes, socks, underwear and shoes. She said some asked for tablets because they are needed for school. Some do ask for toys.

“Kids are kids,” she said. “We do the best we can to fulfill their lists.”

Shopping day

The second main event is shopping day, which is on Dec. 13 this year. Sheriff’s Office personnel, event sponsors and other select community members will head to the Target on Park Street and Tyrone Boulevard early that morning with wish lists in hand.

Brady said it is a balancing act to fulfill the wishes while getting what children need.

Garcia-Olivares said a budget is set for each age group dependent on how much is raised during Ride and Run with the Stars and through the generosity of sponsors and others who donate. Each family has its own personal shoppers.

“Their personal touch in selecting these unique gifts — like a firetruck for a child who dreams of being a first responder or a notepad and pencils for a child who desperately needs school supplies — shines on Christmas Day when families that are going through hardship open them with joy,” Gualtieri said in his monthly newsletter. “Instead of seeing a bare Christmas tree, or no tree at all, they are able to enjoy the holidays with their loved ones.”

Garcia-Olivares agrees with the sheriff as she praised the unique ability of getting to help people they meet.

“We can’t fix everyone’s problems, but we can try to help families and provide a little bit of holiday cheer and food for them to enjoy,” she said.

How you can help

A new way to help this year is by donating a $25 grocery gift card. The goal is 400 cards and the deadline is Dec. 11. A card from any store that sells groceries would be appreciated. And people are welcome to donate more than one, just keep to $25 each.

Garcia-Olivares said in past years, a portion of the money for shopping had been set aside to buy food. This year, the sheriff’s office is hoping that the public will help provide food by donating the gift cards, meaning more money will be available to buy items on the wish lists.

Brady is hopeful that the community will donate gift cards before shopping day, so shoppers will have a bigger budget. It also would allow the cards to be included with the gifts.

Gift card donations can be delivered to:

• Sheriff’s Administration Building Lobby, 10750 Ulmerton Road, Largo.

• Sheriff’s North District Station Lobby, 2496 Bayshore Blvd., Dunedin.

• Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center, Pre-Trial Services, 14250 49th St. N., Clearwater.

Gift cards can be donated after the deadline, but it is important to get as many as possible before the shopping day on Dec. 13. Any cards that come in afterwards will still be used to help families.

Another way to help is to by making a monetary donation through PayPal online at www.RideandRunwiththeStars.com. Click on the store link and then click the “donate now” circle. Next, click the gold star and a page will launch allowing you to pick any amount from $5 to $1,000. All donations are tax deductible.

Monetary donations also can be taken to any location accepting gift cards. Place the donation or the gift card inside an envelope and write Christmas Sharing Project on the outside. If you want to receive a letter of thanks, include your name and address.

Individuals, businesses and corporations are always welcome to adopt a family for the holidays. They would then do the shopping to fulfill the families’ wish lists and provide the food.

Last year, sheriff’s personnel shopped for 823 children and another 188 were adopted, Garcia-Olivares said. In total, 1,011 children received holiday gifts.

For information on the Sheriff’s Christmas Sharing Project or to adopt a family, call Garcia-Olivares at 727-582-6465.

Sponsorships and donations, including silent auction items, are very important. Four sponsorship levels are available, including platinum star for a $2,500 donation, gold star at $1,000, silver star at $500 and bronze star at $250. For more information on becoming a sponsor, go to the website, click on the store link and then click on the “sponsor” circle. You can also call Brady at 727-582-6200.

To donate items for the silent auction, call Sgt. Maurice McCloud at 727-582-6200.

Playing Santa

One of the more fun and fulfilling parts is playing Santa. Some of the families pick up their gifts, but others get deliveries by deputies. Publix also plays a part by providing meals for 40-50 people that are not part of the Christmas Sharing Project.

Community policing deputies spearhead that effort with Publix providing holiday meals for those who might not get one otherwise.

After deliveries are made, leftover funds or gift cards will still go to help make the holiday brighter, Garcia-Olivares said.

“Law enforcement doesn’t close,” she said. “Deputies will work Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after. If they encounter children who didn’t get anything or who had their gifts stolen, they will use leftover money or gift cards to help those families.”

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.