As a third-generation concessionaire running games at local carnivals and other venues, Peter Kasin knows how to entertain.
The Grayslake resident was in that mode a week ago Friday as chairman of the annual Christmas party thrown by the Showmen's League of America for kids at Hanson Park Elementary School in Chicago when the shootings in Newtown, Conn., became known.
Contact information ( * required )
Kasin is a member of the The Showmen's League board of governors, and the party was the 65th thrown by the organization, founded in 1913 by Buffalo Bill Cody. With jugglers, tightrope walkers and magicians among other acts, the event has become more of a production than show and it continued that day as scheduled.
The next morning while watching television, he heard someone say kids could benefit from having something tangible to hold in a time of crisis.
"It was like a light bulb moment," he said. "I knew I wanted to do something."
Toys were the answer. He made some calls and got the Ideal Toy company to donate 1,500 toys, with the Showmen's League matching that commitment for another 1,500 stuffed toys -- something the kids could cuddle and hang onto, Kasin explained.
"I can get the toys. I can get the drivers. I can get the trailer. Now, I need permission to go," he said.
He made some more calls, connected with social services in Newtown and hit the road with his nephew, Kevin Kasin, and Dave Jaros, another board member. They drove straight through, basically stopping only for gas.
"It was kind of like Santa's sleigh was on its way," he said.
Arriving at 2:30 a.m. local time, they were met by a local police officer and joined by several others, who helped unload the bounty.
"It was an odd presence; it was a weird sensation," he said. "We didn't have control over that feeling. That's the first time I've experienced something like that."
They chatted, took some pictures and left for the return trip.
"Thirty-four hours, 3,000 toys and 2,000 miles -- an experience I'll never forget," Kasin said.