Flight to the North Pole has provided Christmas magic for families of terminally ill and disabled children for 36 years. 
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The holidays are a time to create lasting memories with family. For parents of terminally ill children, those memories are especially important because it may be their last holiday season spent together as a family. One Florida nonprofit is doing it all can to make the holidays special for families battling illness this holiday season. 

Flight to the North Pole
Credit: Courtesy of the Clearwater Police Department

Since 1985, Flight to the North Pole has created a day of magical wonder and joy for children living with illness and disability. Partnering with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Sarasota/Bradenton Airport Fire Department, the nonprofit pulls out all the stops to create one day of all-out festive fun for those who deserve it most. 

This year, around 100 children with terminal illnesses or disabilities, along with their families, boarded the North Pole Express at the Florida Railroad Museum on a whirlwind journey to meet Santa and his elves. Once they arrived, there was more magic in store. Families enjoyed festive treats, rides, face painting, balloon animals, and even got the chance to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Each family was sent home with more than $150 in gift cards to help purchase Christmas gifts and keep the joy going throughout the holiday season. 

Flight to the North Pole
Credit: Courtesy of the Clearwater Police Department
Flight to the North Pole
Credit: Courtesy of the Clearwater Police Department

President of Flight to the North Pole Sidney Ettedgui said the program started when he partnered with flight attendants and pilots from Eastern Airlines and Continental Airlines to take kids on a plane ride to see Santa. After 9/11, he started bringing Santa to the children by having a pilot fly Santa to the Airport Fire Station via helicopter. This year, due to COVID-19, the organization made the switch to a smaller event with a train ride. Ettedgui said if all goes well, he hopes to bring the original blowout event back next year. 

"I still have cards that I receive every year from the parents [saying] that the kids cannot wait until the next event," Ettedgui told Southern Living. "[They ask], 'When is the North Pole? When is the North Pole?' And when they arrive, just their expression, their faces, their eyes—it's worth every bit of it."

The event is made possible entirely through donations, sponsorships, and fundraising. To donate directly, click here.

Initiatives like Flight to the North Pole are the real reason for the holiday season!