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Désirée Ávila, REALTOR®

The Santa Express Roars Back to Life


The Santa Express Delivers Christmas Magic

It was 2010 when Concetta Pignataro, Lieutenant at Oakland Park Fire Rescue, had the desire to do something really different for Christmas. She wanted to do something so amazing it would put a big smile on children’s faces and gift them with a memory that would last a lifetime.

Concetta thought and thought about what could be done and she came up with the idea for the Santa Express. The Santa Express, sponsored by the Oakland Park Firefighters’ Benevolent Association (OPFBA), helps Santa deliver Christmas magic to kids around Oakland Park. Santa receives a $20 donation per gift which is then put into the OPFBA fund.

Concetta spearheaded the magical event and continued to organize it until her retirement in 2019. Now, under the care of Fire Captain Christopher Lunt, the Santa Express is roaring back to life after a two year hiatus.

A Special Return After a Two-year Gap

This year The Santa Express has a special meaning. In 2020 and 2021, the Santa Express had to take a short break during because of COVID related concerns.

The OPFBA did still provided presents and some Christmas spirit to local families and children through the efforts of Lieutenant Herrera, leader of the Association at the time, but it was socially distanced. “We are extremely excited, however, to bring it back stronger than ever and have already set a new record for children and families registered”, says Captain Lunt.

Growing The Santa Express to a New Level

This year, the number of registrants has reached its cap limit of 50 children. OPFBA is overjoyed at the overwhelmingly positive response and excitement from the community.

"We love being able to perform community outreach because we truly care about the city and residents which our fire department serves. While the addition of so many new participants does create new logistical issues, there aren't any problems we can't solve in order to make it work this Christmas season".

As if brightening Christmas for kids was not magical enough, all the proceeds collected by Santa go to individuals and families in need in Oakland Park. Local elementary schools help the OPFBA identify those families in need so that their Christmas is extra special. The Firefighters also team up with Lowes and Home Depot to provide trees and gifts to the families in need.

Bigger Santa Express in 2023

This year with social media exposure through the Living In Oakland Park Facebook group, the Santa Express quickly reached its cap. While the Firefighters wished they could reach more children this year, they are grateful for the success the Santa Express experienced in its first year back. 

Captain Lunt conveyed that the Firefighters “… appreciate everyone’s participation and donations to The Santa Express and will be doing everything within our abilities to bring Santa to your home for a personal present drop off. We are beyond proud to know that with the help of Living in Oakland Park we are able to grow it even bigger this year and plan to continue that growth into the future. It is important to us to connect and spend time with our community along with spreading some holiday cheer”.

In other words stay tuned for an even bigger and better Santa Express in 2023 because our Oakland Park Firefighters are going to bring it!

For now we wish you a great holiday season and a wonderful new year!


About the Writer


Desiree Avila


Désirée Ávila EDITOR, PUBLISHER, WRITER, PHOTOGRAPHER, REALTOR® Désirée Ávila has called Oakland Park her home for over 35 years. In addition to publishing, Désirée has been featured in print publications, locally and abroad. Désirée was an award winning teacher for 10 years and has a doctoral level education in Educational Technology. She is currently a licensed Florida REALTOR® and is committed to a high-level of professionalism. Désirée consistently professionally develops herself and has earned several different professional designations and certifications in real estate including the GRI, PSA, e-Pro, AHWD, SRS, ABR®, SRES and SFR®. She was also awarded the C2EX, Commitment to Excellence award by the National Association for Realtors (NAR). This award is given to REALTORS® that distinguish themselves for their commitment to excellence in the real estate industry. She is esteemed by her real estate colleagues and has consistently received 5 star reviews from her clients. Her philosophy about real estate is that being a REALTOR® is a way of teaching and helping people, and in the process a real estate transaction may occur, that is to say her foremost priority is and has always been about helping others. She is dedicated to her hometown of Oakland Park and works consistently on building and fostering a strong community. She is passionate about photography and loves to read books about history ; the more detail the better! In addition to English, Désirée is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian.

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