Employees at Gulf Power’s Plant Crist donated bicycles to local charities for children’s Christmas gifts. Dec. 11, 2020.

2020 no doubt will go down in history as the Grinch that stole a lot from us.

The team at Gulf Power’s Plant Crist, however, was not going to let the challenges of COVID-19, as well as Hurricane Sally and the coal-to-natural gas conversion steal their 20-plus year tradition of supporting Communities Caring at Christmas.

They were determined to carry on the spirit of the program to make sure children living in foster care or poverty or adults with developmental disabilities in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties are not forgotten.

So, they pulled up their Santa boots and pushed through the blizzard of obstacles to join their FPL plant teams in taking part in a bike donation drive dubbed Bike-A-Palooza. They even faced down worldwide shortages in bikes and succeeded in securing 210 bicycles and helmets, doubling their goal of 100 bikes.

Friendly competition with other power plants throughout Gulf Power’s sister company, Florida Power & Light, spurred the team to keep buying more and more bikes, leading them to far outpace the other plants’ bike drives.

“This shows that there is nothing that this team can’t accomplish,” said Christine Fiveash, a teammate at Plant Crist, who led the plant’s Bike-A-Palooza drive.

“This year has definitely been challenging, but it was no surprise that everyone was willing to participate here at Plant Crist. This group as always has been a very caring and giving team when it comes to donating to all charities. Communities Caring at Christmas has, definitely, been one of the favorites of plant personnel.”

Plant Crist has been donating food, clothes, toys and money to the Communities Caring at Christmas charity since 1999, raising money through an annual golf tournament, Swingin’ Santa, through 2018 to support the charity. With changes at the plant and then the pandemic, they were not able to continue the golf tournament.

“The team at Plant Crist is a passionate, dedicated and hardworking group,” Christine said. “We take extreme pride in everything we do from working safely, to hurricane restoration, customer service and providing support to charities like Communities Caring at Christmas. We channeled that passion into providing these bikes to the children in our community.”

Plant Crist General Manager Brian McCaul gave a shout out to teammates throughout Gulf Power and its parent company NextEra Energy, as well as contractors who worked at the plant.

“When you start talking about giving little kids a bicycle for Christmas, all the other things we’re going through do not seem that important anymore, and it kind of energized the workforce a little bit, to feel good about something,” he said.

The joy of their accomplishment was clear as their caravan of more than two dozen plant workers rolled into the Pensacola State Fairgrounds on Dec. 11 with a truck full of more than $21,000 worth of bicycles and helmets to donate to the charitable toy drive lead by WEAR TV-3 and supported by corporate sponsors like Gulf Power.

Christine thanked everyone for their generosity. “Especially in this era of COVID, providing time and money to this wonderful local charity, you have helped make Christmas great for a lot of local families that need our support. Without this support from each and every one of you, this bike drive would not have been possible.”

On Dec. 2, Gulf Power also presented WEAR TV-3 anchor Sue Straughn with a check for $36,469 in support of Communities Caring at Christmas, money that was raised through fundraisers and donations. This is the 25th year Gulf Power has supported the effort.

“Our teammates have a long history of supporting efforts that help improve the quality of life in our communities,” said Rick Byars, Gulf Power External Affairs. “Communities Caring at Christmas affords us the ability to make the holidays a little brighter, and we’re grateful to have that opportunity.”