The holidays mean so much to people in varying ways. Maybe you celebrate at your church or with family members over tables full of turkey and ham. Perhaps you jet set to a fun location or quietly serve others at a homeless shelter. Whatever we are doing to commemorate this Christmas season, the tie that binds us all is the magic we all feel, reflected through a child’s eyes. To see that twinkle of belief in miracles, and sheer delight many of us have not felt for years is a gift to behold. For a special group of children in the Sarasota/Bradenton area, a recent visit with Santa proved to be a wondrous event for all involved.
For the past 31 years, Flight to the North Pole has been bringing smiles, gifts, and joy to terminally ill children in the area. This program originated with a group of Eastern Airlines flight attendants who wanted to help sick children during the holidays. Now the event is sponsored by the Manatee Sheriff’s Office, Sarasota/Bradenton Airport Fire Department, local businesses and volunteers. The event is never open to the public so that it can remain a special, non-publicized time for the children, their families, and a select few who are there via invitation only.
An event this special takes a multitude of volunteers and businesses to pull off in grand fashion. According to longtime advocate and man in charge of Flight to the North Pole, Sidney Ettedgui from the Manatee Sheriff’s Office, the smile on the faces of the kids in attendance has been immensely rewarding. He knows firsthand the importance of pulling in key community assistance to make the day special for all including local restaurants who provide lunch options for the families, fast-food chains who hand out meals for the kids, home improvement stores that help the kids make crafts and a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus. And don’t forget about Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport, the site of the event, for there could be no flight to the North Pole in any other venue. After a fun time of lunch, games, snow fun, crafts, and entertainment by Shrine clowns, each family is invited in so the children can give Santa their wish lists. Little do they know, the event is truly sprinkled with fairy dust as gifts they had hoped for would already be waiting to descend Santa’s bag and into their grateful hands. The children are able to enjoy the thrills of the season in an intimate setting with their parents nearby. From those who were fortunate to see the tender moments at this year’s event, many felt like it was much more beautiful than anything they had been a part of before.
Sadly, for some of these families, times like these where they are all together could very well include a last good night or sweet kiss goodbye. But for the intense giving by people like Sidney Ettedgui, and scores of others who gladly give to these children, not only at this event but through organized events and donation and fundraising beforehand, these folks could be facing this time of year without the extra assistance and love. You tend to think of Santa’s helpers in a whole new light when considering the gravity of the situations these families face on a continual basis. Their worries may not be able to be overturned on Christmas day but one exceptional Flight to the North Pole has lifted the spirits of many in need of just such a boost. And, then once the spirits are lifted, in the genuine spirit of Christmas, something miraculous happens. Families unite with smiles and awe before a man with a jolly red hat and a twinkle in his eye. And right behind him are the helpers, businesses, police officers, firemen, community leaders, and community members wishing that the joys of the holiday season ring long and beautiful for all children and families involved.
If you’d like to be a part of the joy in next year’s Flight to the North Pole, you can send donations to Flight to the North Pole, 600 301 Blvd. W., Suite 202, Bradenton 34205.
photos from Facebook