A din of sirens echoing off the buildings in downtown Des Plaines preceded a stream of fire trucks, police vehicles and yellow school buses rolling down Lee Street to the Metra station. There was no emergency here; this parade of vehicles was the start of Operation North Pole’s annual event, a fun-filled trip to the “North Pole” for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
After arriving at the Des Plaines depot on Saturday, Dec. 9, participants were greeted by first responders, community members and railfans, all welcoming them to the start of their round-trip journey on the rails.
Operation North Pole, or ONP, began in 2011 when 30 families hopped on Metra’s Union Pacific Northwest Line to a 3,000-square-foot assembly hall for a holiday-inspired party. This year, 74 families and more than 300 volunteers took part in this annual train ride and “winter wonderland” party. The entire event was funded by generous donations.
As participants lined up along barricades on the station’s outbound platform, train horns sounded to the familiar tune of Jingle Bells to announce the arrival of the specially wrapped ONP train. The onlookers of all ages waved and cheered as it pulled into the station.
Once aboard, magicians from Open Heart Magic, musicians, first responders and volunteers of all kinds sang, played and joined in the festivities with all, including having a pom-pom “snowball” fight across the aisles. Community members of the towns the train traveled through, from Des Plaines to Crystal Lake and back, waved at the passing train, some singing carols and others holding arrow-shaped signs pointing in the direction of travel to the “North Pole.” Back at the Des Plaines Station, participants departed on school buses to the 28,000-square-foot Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont to continue the festivities with more treats, gifts from Santa and holiday fun.
ONP was created to give families struggling with the emotional and financial stress of life-threatening or terminal illness a chance to share in the joys of the holiday season. As part of its efforts to expand its mission throughout the year, ONP collected more than 3,000 winter coats to needy children in the Chicagoland area, hosted blood drives, volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House and hosted several other charity events. If you’re interested in supporting Operation North Pole, visit www.operationnorthpole.org for more information.