Our families are what drives us to make the impossible possible. ONP started for the simple reason to bring a little magic to the lives of these incredible families. Our families have unique stories, incredible strength, and never lose hope. We are honored to provide these families with a day of joy during the holidays and make sure they never stop believing in the spirit of Christmas.
Please take a moment and read the beautiful stories of some of our families' experiences at our annual Winter Wonderland event.
Well this past weekend was absolutely incredible and again puts our lives into a different perspective (remind me to get to that statement later!). When Lucas was diagnosed we were handed a piece of paper that had Operation North Pole on it. The person who gave us the sheet was a volunteer of the hospital. So we looked it over and filled it out. I remember the description reading something like a little train ride and some gifts and breakfast for the day. Rina and I said it would be nice for the boys to get out for a day and we signed the paper and turned it in. Of all the charities and helpful information, this was the one that we didn't look into very much AT ALL!!! Crazy, I know, but we just didn't. So Rina started getting emails about the upcoming day and we had to fill out some more paperwork and so on. No big deal. The author portrayed himself as one of Santa's helpers and he needed to remember to do this and do that. It was fun, but AGAIN, we didn't put a lot of energy into it. We did what they asked and went on with our lives.
The week before the event, we were back in the hospital and worried that we may miss this outing for the boys and some sense of normalcy in life. We made it, obviously!!! Upon arrival, a fire fighter greeted us and sent us up this huge ramp INTO the building with signs that said Valet Parking. This wasn't just valet, it was gold star!!!! We were parking IN the building!!! Not some bumpy parking lot, THE BUILDING!!!!
So we loaded up the stroller (as ALL parents do!!!) and headed to the doors. Again, we were greeted by fire fighters and some volunteers that brought us to registration. Rina and the boys took some pictures with the fire fighters while I signed us in. (Still no clue what we were in for!!) We were escorted to a hall where there were tables and chairs and some buffet lines being set up. About 100 or so families were sitting and chatting and talking and smiling. Kids were playing and running around a little. We were escorted to our table and waited patiently. Shortly after, Ronald McDonald himself stopped by for a visit. We ate breakfast: Bacon and eggs, sausage, fruit, pancakes, toast, donuts, bagels, danishes, coffee, tea, and juice. All for us!!!
After breakfast, we were greeted by Fireman Richie. He was our designated Santa's helper and would escort us on the bus to the train and so on. He was a very friendly guy and Lucas took a liking to him as well!
Ronald McDonald put on a magic show for the kids and then we headed to the buses. Once we got the green light to go, fire trucks and police cars escorted us into traffic and toward the train to the North Pole. We didn't stop for a single red light. The police blocked traffic at EVERY intersection from Rosemont to Des Plaines!!!!
"There was a magic spark in the air that I just can't explain. Maybe for a moment, I was a kid again. Believing again that everything was good and happy and the evil of the world didn't exist. "
Upon arrival at the train station (and after singing TOO many Xmas carols) we got out and stretched our legs and waited for the train. What a surprise when the train arrived!! Two huge Metra cars were completely wrapped with Operation North Pole stickers and signs!!! It was amazing. When the train stopped, Mrs. Claus herself greeted us!!! There was a magical spark in the air that I just can't explain. Maybe for a moment, I was a kid again. Believing again that everything was good and happy and the evil of the world didn't exist. Thank you Mrs. Claus for that tiny little moment. We were ushered onto the train and took our seats. More helpers were there to hand out goody bags, coloring books, stickers, and of course, CANDY. We sang more carols and played Simon says. The conductor came around as well and stamped our tickets. About halfway to the North Pole we stopped for treats. The fire fighters from Crystal Lake boarded the train and gave the kids meal boxes with water, cookies, trail mix and other snacks. Parents got water and watched the smiles on the faces of the kids.
AS we arrived back at our destination, tension grew and Rina spotted Santa first!!! He was perched on the ladder truck with a bull horn waving and talking to us. We got back onto the buses and were escorted back to the convention center. This time we followed a huge a semi that Santa brought with him!!!
So here is where this story takes a turn:
I told you about Richie the fireman who was with us the whole time. Well he and Brian (the other fireman on the bus) got off the bus and another volunteer got on. He said we would be a minute. Well the buses started emptying and we gather at the front door. Took a quick picture with Santa and then silence. Santa said a few words and then opened the doors. Upon entering we were all greeted by firemen and policemen on one knee. Clapping and cheering and giving high fives to EVERY SINGLE CHILD. It felt like there was 1000 of them!! Richie was there as well. Although I didn't cry that day, the emotions have hit home the symbolism of that walk for me. These brave men and women are willing to risk their lives for us every day doing their jobs. And that day, they showed the kids that they were the real heroes. The gratitude, the love, the compassion from these complete strangers was amazing. Lucas loved it, he high fived damn near every one of them!!!
Down on one knee, unified. They did this for the kids, for the families, for the smiles and joy on their faces. Volunteered, not paid. For strangers. It was incredible for me. Tears continue to roll down my face....
"That day, they showed the kids that they were the real heroes. The gratitude, the love, the compassion from these complete strangers was amazing. Lucas loved it, he high fived every one of them!!!"
Back upstairs, tables and chairs now gone, stands a simple podium. Hold on, let me get my composure....We gathered around this podium. (this is where I figured we would get a little gift and some candy and the day was over, boy was I wrong!!) Santa gave another little speech and recognized some people for their help. Then he said, through these doors awaits a Christmas Celebration. Enter and Enjoy!!!
HOLY COW!!!! We were again greeted by elves, gingerbread men, angels, ballerinas, princesses and other characters. Rescue dogs as well. Xmas trees, and snow and decorations filled this hall. Music and lights were everywhere. IT was total overload. To the right tables overflowing with candy and chocolate and fountains of chocolate and more candy and cookies and cupcakes. Did I mention the candy??!?!!! There was pizza, and ice cream, and drinks. A beauty salon for the girls and trains for everyone. A station for popcorn, cheese puffs, etc. A photo booth and face painting. I was absolutely blown away by what we just walked into. No charge to us. NOTHING. No money needed, take all you want. All you can carry and then come back for more was the slogan of the day!!! Richie, again back with us, filled at least 4 bags full of candy as Lucas and Franco went into sugar comas!!! WE did everything there was to do and enjoyed ourselves until it was time to go.
"The display of generosity, sincerity, and love from everyone involved with operation North Pole was indescribable. We didn't have to do anything. Someone was always there to help us do something, get something or just smile. "
The display of generosity, sincerity and love from everyone involved with Operation North Pole was indescribable. We didn't have to do anything. Someone was always there to help us do something, get something or just smile. Even the darn walking Xmas tree!!! Before we left a young lady approached us and asked if knew a certain family. We started talking and of course we have some things in common, CANCER. However, Sue and her son Matthew made me realize how much we should cherish our time on this planet, in this life, doing this thing we do. Matthew is 11 months old and has a SUPER rare brain tumor. Most kids with it, go home to die. Not Matthew and not his mom!!! They are helping to write the future protocol for treatment. Matthew's experience may actually save the life another kid down the road. With all of that going on, both mom and Matthew can still smile. Still laugh, still talk about IT. I said to Rina on the way home. I don't feel the need to complain about cancer today. We are dealing with leukemia and a fever here and there. These issues are life changing for US, but when you meet other people that have BIGGER challenges every day life is given a different perspective.
Cherish the moments I have with my family and I didn't have time to clean out the garden or rake the leaves or put the hoses away. But I did find time to sit with my family and watch a movie. Put decorations on the Xmas tree and set up the train that goes around. They won't remember a clean yard or tidy garage when I am gone, but they will hopefully remember the feeling of love and compassion, safety and security that I try to give every day to my entire family. I won't stress over visiting or not. Last minute notices of traveling visitors are ALWAYS accepted. I am a cancer dad now and life has changed. I cry every day for one reason or another and Lucas smiles and laughs and goes on as a little boy.
Thank you for the life perspective. Thank you for the memories that will be cherished forever. Thank you for caring about my family even though you don't know who we are. Thank you Operation North Pole.
Dear Operation North Pole,
Words cannot describe how wonderful, special, and magical this experience was for our family! From checking in to exiting the event, everything was organized and the attention to detail was outstanding! The week of this event, our son Nicholas was admitted into the hospital and had to stay 4 days. It was our goal all week to make it to this event and it exceeded our expectations. It was so special that our family was able to forget about staying at the hospital, being away from our daughter, and watching Nicholas suffer. We are forever in your debt and would love to be a part of this program or help in anyway!
"We are extremely grateful for the presents we received, but the memories from this event will last a lifetime!"
Thank you again and have a very wonderful and Merry Christmas!
The Vitellaro Family
Dear Operation North Pole,
Thank you so much for your generosity, kindness and compassion. You created a day for these kids that they will never forget - I think the volunteers experienced as much joy as the kids! Everything about the day was amazing and full of unending surprises.
My son, Jack, has experienced a lot of very serious health issues in the last two years - in fact, last October we were told we wouldn't have him until Christmas. Just as we were ready to give up, he started two new drugs and they have been the miracle we prayed for. Not only did he make it to Christmas 2016, but there is no doubt we will share many more holidays together. Each day is a gift and you made sure that these kids felt special and so loved. As with any family with a sick child, it plays a toll on the other siblings and marriage. Thank you for also including Jack's sisters in this special day. Often times, life seems to revolve around Jack and his needs and it was so great that they also got this special treatment.
I can’t express how special and meaningful it was to have the fire departments, police, and EMS escorting us and being so gracious with their time. Walking through that lineup to the ballroom was incredible. Please let everyone who donated their time, money, talent, and energy know how much we appreciate the experience. We were so blessed to be part of Operation North Pole 2017!
The Burke Family
Dear Operation North Pole,
Last year we were fortunate to be on the receiving end of ONP's generosity and we are extremely thankful for everything the organization did for our family when our son Jack was ill with a brain tumor. We didn't know how much fun he would have until we realized our family was the last to leave the party! It was truly a memorable experience, and as a result we will always try and help others in need.
It's unfortunate that our son Jack lost his battle on August 22, 2015 after 13 months of fighting. Jack taught us many things in just 3 short years. He taught us to live, laugh, love and be thankful for everything that we have because it can be gone tomorrow.
Thanks again for making our Christmas 2014 brighter. Jack always had a smile on his face when he was driving his tractor that Santa brought him, and those memories are priceless!
Tim, Sarah and Jase
Dear Operation North Pole,
My name is Amber Copeman. My family and I were blessed to be a part of the Magic that was last year’s Operation North Pole in Rosemont. Throughout this past year our thoughts have floated back to that magical day and it really is a memory that that will last a lifetime. It's people like you that make having a disability or a mother of a child with a disability eternally grateful for giving my son Dylan and daughter Lily those precious memories. Words cannot even express how much you’ve touched our hearts and we in turn would like to be a part of touching others the way so many did for us.
Amber, Cory, Dylan and Lily Collins