Every Thursday, excited kids and their parents line the streets of Give Kids the World Village in Orlando waiting for the Winter Wonderland parade start. It’s the festive culmination of the Winter Carnival, a weekly party that combines a month’s worth of December holiday fun into one exciting “winter” day, regardless of the season or the weather outside (think “Christmas in July”) for the guests of the Village, a magical nonprofit resort where severely ill children and their families are treated to a week of theme park visits and vacation joy.
Courtesy Give Kids The World VillageRolling down the street, you’ll spot volunteers dressed as joyful elves, beautiful snow princesses, and prancing gingerbread men. Santa, of course, is a highlight, as are the fabulous parade floats occupied by well-known toys. There’s one with Toy Story favorites including Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, and Woody; another hosts a posse of My Little Pony characters; another one holds Stellar the Star Fairy, a special character who lives at the Village. And there, near the front, is Geoffrey the Giraffe.
Courtesy Give Kids The World VillageYou might not know it from looking at them now, but these parade floats were once the rotating cars of the towering Ferris wheel at the multi-level Toys “R” Us at the center of New York City’s bustling Times Square. When the store closed its doors in 2015, Toys “R” Us donated the whimsical ride cars to the Village (as GKTW is known). They also pledged $1 million, provided by the Toys”R”Us Children’s Fund (TRUCF), to help support this very special resort that depends on donations to stay open. And they committed to providing monthly product donations to the children staying at the Village as well.
Many of the toys make it to Santa’s special party where children meet the jolly old elf and get to choose a present (and it’s not just the sick children who get treats here—their siblings get the star treatment as well). Throughout the day there’s a dance party, carols, special decorations, cookie decorating,”snow,” winter-themed games and activities, and of course, the parade.
Courtesy Give Kids The World VillageAlthough the Winter Wonderland parade isn’t open to the public, Give Kids The World Village depends on volunteers to assist with all of their activities and events, including the Winter Carnival and parade as well as other hands-on activities such as scooping ice cream in the sweet treats parlor or assisting with meet and greets with the Village’s resident rabbit mascot, Mayor Clayton. The 79-acre, nonprofit “storybook” resort is located near Central Florida’s most popular theme parks, and adding a few hours to assist is a highlight of many visitors’ vacations. The Village makes wishes come true for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families when they’re treated to week-long, cost-free vacations, including park tickets, giving them the opportunity to reconnect and relax away from doctor visits and hospital stays. Founded 30 years ago, the nonprofit has hosted more than 150,000 families from all 50 states and 76 countries.