By: Diane Turner-Hurns
Journal & Topics Reporter
It was more than just numbers, Operation North Pole (ONP) founder Tim Crossin said. Nearly all who donated their time and services to help the 71 families invited to this year’s annual North Pole event in Des Plaines and Rosemont, which included 317 people and 162 children, some with life threatening illnesses, enjoyed a magical time.
Close to 700 were there to help the families and children enjoy a once-in- a-lifetime experience Saturday, Dec. 12 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. The first floor ballroom was filled to the brim with hundreds of decorated Christmas trees, larger-than-life figurines and snowmen, candy galore and much more as part of a “Winter Wonderland.”
The special day started at 9 a.m. with a buffet breakfast for all the families at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. After breakfast, they were escorted by police and firefighters to the downtown Des Plaines train station. There, they boarded five decorated Metra train cars for a special ride to the “North Pole” in Crystal Lake and back.
“Thanks to Rosemont’s Stacey Schuster who designed the wrap and made sure it happened,” Crossin said.
Following the train ride, the families were escorted from Des Plaines back to Rosemont by fire engines and police cars to the Winter Wonderland ballroom where they were greeted by hundreds of guests and served lunch. There were opportunities for face paintings, mini-hockey games, viewing of model trains and sharing holiday wishes with Santa Claus.
As part of ONP, each child suffering from a life-threatening disease received $300 worth of wrapped Christmas gifts. Not only that, but the siblings of each child also received $300 worth of gifts.
“People were extremely generous,” Crossin said. “We had about 700 people attend to help celebrate the season with the children and their families. I mean this was special for them. Without a program like this, many of these parents would not be able to provide a Christmas for their children.
Crossin thanked ONP’s many donors, “Such as the 17 Blackhawk players who shopped and picked out gifts for the kids. The Rice Foundation and many others donated funds, but many want to remain anonymous.
“Another part of the story are the people. The people who donate to help the kids,” Crossin said. “For instance a couple of weeks ago, this guy stopped by our Des Plaines office and asked where and how we store all the gifts and decorations for the event.
“He told me he owns a trucking business and handed over to me the title to a 53-foot truck trailer so we could use it,” Crossin said. “He just handed it to us. Then we have truck and bus drivers that when they learn why they are hauling all of the cargo, reach into their own pockets and give what they can to go toward helping the kids and the families.”
Crossin said this year’s ONP cost about $200,000 including the gifts, set up, train rides and more.
Rosemont Public Safety Deputy Chief Kevin Kukulka said the event was magical for the children and volunteers. He, along with Public Safety Cmdr. John Traficante and Sgt. Lyle Richmond and 25 other Rosemont volunteers helped with the set up the week before the event, which included wrapping gifts and decorating the hall along with escorting the families.
“This year there seemed to be more people volunteering and children participating,” Kukulka said. “Next year we hope to help even more.”
Crossin said in addition to all the gifts, trees, snowmen and set up, 6,000 lbs. of candy was donated for the event.
“You know, many of the parents we work with are having a difficult time. We work with the children’s hospitals around the area to identify the children and families to participate,” Crossin said. “The families have it tough, but the people in Rosemont and Des Plaines always step up to the plate to help them out.”
For instance, three families called and said they could not make it because they did not have transportation. Crossin told them they would be picked up. He contacted Karen Smith, owner of Rosemont-based Horizon Cab Co. who, he said, without any hesitation at all sent taxis to pick them up at no cost.
“Then I got a call from a family and through tears told me they had lost their home and their car and that they could lose their spot at the homeless shelter if they stayed away one night so they could not make it Saturday,” Crossin said, adding that many of the families are treated to an overnight stay at a local hotel.
“So I turned to Karen and you know what, without any hesitation she said they would pick up the family early Saturday morning and take them back in time so as not to lose their spot,” Crossin said.
“I mean these volunteers, community leaders, businesses, law enforcement, firefighters and many more make a major difference in the lives of these children,” Crossin said. “I really hope they know how much it means to them, especially during Christmas. We can’t thank people enough.”
Said Karen Smith: “It’s just an honor to be asked.”
Next year’s ONP is already set for the second Saturday in December.