ORLANDO, Fla. -

Kids at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Childrenin Orlando were left smiling, long after receiving a personal visit from the Easter Bunny on Saturday.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputies -- reserve and full-time -- teamed up with The Easter Bunny Foundation  to deliver 250 new plush toy bunnies to each child, too sick to go home over the holiday.

Founded in 1995 by Sam and Eleanor Meiner, The Easter Bunny Foundation has partnered with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for more than fifteen years. Law enforcement officers perceive the Easter Bunny program as a win-win and one that strengthens their relationships with communities whom they serve.

“The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is honored to be involved with the Easter Bunny Foundation,” said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings. “Our motto, ‘Making a Difference,’ and our engagement in this program are both all about making a difference in a child’s life.”

“We want these kids to know that they are not just loved by family and friends, but also by a large community that stands by them each step of the way,” Demings added.

One of those who got to see the many smiles and hear the shrieks of delight on Saturday was Reserve Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Newlin, who traded his well-tailored attorney suits, and along with fellow Reserve Deputies Timothy Styer and Samuel May and Deputy First Class Carmelo Ortiz, escorted the Easter Bunny around at Arnold Palmer, handing out dozens of toy bunnies to the kids.

About 30 children enjoyed time outside in the amazing courtyard where they participated in an easter egg hunt led by staff members of PepsiCo, one of the major sponsors of the Easter Bunny program. The kids also spent time too, coloring with deputies, another highlight of the program that reinforces law enforcement officers’ service to the community.

“Working as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff is a great honor but there’s no greater honor than touching the life of a child,” Newlin said, of the  four hours spent at the hospital. “Arnold Palmer is amazing and I’m proud to be part of the event today.”

Newlin should have an idea of what it’s like to deliver a smile to a sick child and the joy that it brings. Recently, through the Dan Newlin Miracle Project, seven kids battling cancer at the Hospitalgot to spend time and smile with Evander Holyfied, the former Undisputed World Champion. (full story with photos)

Not only is the Easter Bunny program a win-win for Sheriff’s deputies, hospitalized kids and their families, but hospital staff have long-praised the program and point to its positive responses and community effort to help a sick child get better.

“Our hospital is truly a part of this Central Florida community and it is heartwarming when organizations make a point to give to our kids,” said Sheri Mosley, Manager for Child Life Music & the Arts at Arnold Palmer Medical Center.

Adds Mosley, “This visit [on Saturday] is a perfect example of the broad impact that Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children has had on this community and everyone from the Easter Bunny Foundation who made this visit possible should know that they have made a difference in the lives of our patients.”

In addition to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, the Easter Bunny and Sheriff’s deputies will visit six other major hospitals in Central Florida including, Florida Hospital for Children, Lakeland Regional Medical Center and South Lake Hospital.

Since its inception in Orlando, the Easter Bunny program has mushroomed nationwide, following official endorsement by the National Sheriff’s Association, initially in 2005 and again in 2009. Last year, approximately 14,000 hospitalized children received a personal visit from the Easter Bunny over the Easter week-end and organizers say, at least that many kids will be visited this year, in 250 hospitals across the country.

The Easter Bunny Foundation receives support from several major donors including, Mrs. Harriett Lake, Westgate Resorts Foundation, US Foodservice, The Ginsberg Family Foundation and several local friends of the Big Bunny.

The Foundation plans to expand the program to every hospital in the United States that would like a visit from the Easter Bunny.