MILTON — Santa and his elves got some unexpected responses from the children of Santa Rosa County at the Light Up Milton festivities this year.


Mike Bell and his volunteer Santa crew tried something different this year. They asked children to write their Christmas wishes on a small piece of paper and bring it up to Santa then put it in a box so he could make get them their wishes.


“(The wishes ranged) from wanting dads for Christmas to having families back together - up to even wanting a dad and a family from an orphaned boy,” Bell said. “One little one asked for her mom to have a good Christmas by being able to have their dad out of the hospital in Jacksonville.”


Bell admitted the responses put him through a range of emotions. What surprised him was most of the wishes were for someone else.


It also gave him an idea. He wants to start a project called Operation Toy Drop, but he needs the help of the community.


The name is a little misleading because Bell wants to try to make these wishes come true, not just collect toys. Although there is not enough time to grant these wishes this year he wants to start the legwork now. Therefore, he can provide these items to kids next year.


Here is an example of what he wants to accomplish. One little girl said she wanted to fly.


“I know plenty of people at the airport. I’m sure I can get them to fly her around the area and make her wish come true,” Bell said.


Some wishes were simple. One child wished Santa a Merry Christmas, another wrote they wanted funnel cakes. Others seemed impossible, like children wanting their families back together or one child’s plea to have their dad pick them up more often.


Bell said his idea would take a lot of work. He has been volunteering as Santa for the past six years and wants to expand his reach to those children he can help.


His crew of Hannah Myers, Salena Bell and Beau Coulter are ready to assist with the project.


“I want to get people involved,” Bell said. “I want to take us back to the old days of Milton. When someone needed a barn built what did his neighbors do? They came over and helped build the barn.”


Bell’s intention is to collect toys and arrange wishes to be granted for the children of Santa Rosa County. He wants what is given here to stay here. There is a lot of work to do and he is willing to take the project on.


Bell said after hearing and reading the wishes from the local children, all he could think of was that we could all learn something from them.