Santa Cares brings comfort to parents with special needs children

HATTIESBURG, Miss.(WHLT) – For the first time, Turtle Creek Mall offered Santa Cares for children with special needs.

The program is a sensory-friendly opportunity for children with all spectrum’s of special needs to get the Santa Photo Experience at the mall. Parents are able to sign up online for allotted times for their child to meet with Santa without the overcrowding and loud noise in the mall.

On Sunday, the mall opened two hours early to provide a quiet atmosphere for children to meet with Santa. They dimmed the lights and turned the music off to make sure every child was comfortable for their appointment.

Turtle Creek Mall General Manager, Stacy Woodard, says she’s excited the mall could offer this personal experience for children with special needs. She said, “What a lot of people don’t understand is special needs children, some of them have never visited Santa, sat with Santa. Family’s with other children they’ve never had a family photo together, and it’s just special because  we create a sensory free environment for these children.”

Breanne Hartfield, a parent, says she found out about the event through Facebook and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It was the first time her family had been able to take a Christmas photo including everyone.

“Having a special needs child, we don’t really get out with him a whole lot, especially this time of year. He gets overstimulated with the crowds. This was just a good way to bring him and also the siblings in,” Breanne said.
For Stephanie Ewert, this is only the second time her 12-year-old son Jaden has been able to see Santa. She says the first time the large crowds and long lines were too much for Jaden.
“I’m so grateful Santa Cares was brought to the community. To be able to share that with fellow Autism families,a director of  Autism support group in Hattiesburg, so we were very excited to see that they had thought of us, and allotted the time for us to see Santa,” Stephanie said.
Turtle Creek Mall says they hope to make this event an annual tradition.

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