By Erin Kennedy


CHICAGO (CBS) — The magic of Operation North Pole in Rosemont had many sick children and their families smiling all weekend. It’s an annual charity event organized with the city’s children’s hospitals, to provide a day of fun for families who have a child battling a life-threatening disease or condition.

The fantasy trip includes breakfast, a festive train ride, a visit with Santa, a winter wonderland, games, and more; all making memories for some very sick kids and their families.

“We have a very, very, very important job here today,” organizer Tim Crossin told hundreds of volunteers Saturday at the kickoff of Operation North Pole at the Stephens Convention Center. “That is to let every one of these families know that we love them. Today there is no pain, no sorrow, only happiness and joy.”

Santa led a group of 150 families from the train to the “gauntlet of honor,” where emergency responders from various police and fire departments lined up, bent on one knee, clapping, high-fiving, and cheering as kids traveled into Santa’s winter wonderland.

Once inside their eyes lit up.

From action hero capes to candy. There’s dancing and performers, and lots of food to fill up hungry tummies.

“These families may not be together by next year. So we want to make this as special as we can on this day. This is one day where they can forget everything and just enjoy,” Thais Hudson said.

“Your heat just melts, and it makes you so happy. They say it’s like their best day ever,” Evan Palenik said.

Zoey and her mom couldn’t agree more.

“I get to do awesome things, and play and stuff, but I usually don’t get to a lot, because I’m always sick. My favorite part was everything,” Zoe said.

Her mother was nearly at a loss for words.

“How much they did for everybody, for everything to be going on, and doing this all for Christmas. It was just overwhelming,” she said.

Angel Martinez decided on a face painting of Rudolph.

“I like it a lot,” he said.

“Being able to give back, and help these children that are going through a rough time, and trying to give them the time of their life. The whole thing is just one big magical event,” Ethan Orzech said.

After the event, families had one last surprise; Christmas taken care of, their wish lists fulfilled, wrapped gifts waiting to go in their cars. Some presents were so big they didn’t fit. Those gifts will be delivered Monday by firefighters volunteering their time.

For more information on how you can help go to operationnorthpole.org.