After Halloween, it doesn't take long for Sleepy Hollow and Gilberts residents to look forward to one of the longest standing traditions in Dundee Township: the annual Santa Run sponsored by the Rutland Dundee Firefighters' Association.
A week or two into November, residents begin calling firefighters to ask when they can expect Santa to roll through their neighborhoods in a month or so with ambulances and fire trucks on a mission.
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While Santa is listening to children's Christmas wishes, parents, grandparents, older brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles are giving food and toys to firefighters and their army of volunteers.
The toys and food always go to area social service agencies which given them to needy families.
"People call us so they can tell when to plan their holiday parties around the runs," said Rutland firefighter Jason Schiller. "They have neighborhood and family parties and come out in groups."
When the Run started more than 40 years ago, it was held during the week and it took two or three nights to drive through the villages, which years ago consisted of pockets of neighborhoods and farms.
Now, it takes two weekends, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, to complete, and it doesn't matter what the weather is or if the Chicago Bears are playing; the crowds still run out with armfuls of items.
This year, the Run ended on Dec. 9.
"It takes about four hours to go through a neighborhood," Schiller said. "That give kids enough time to sit on Santa's lap and for families to take all the pictures they want."
It also gives residents enough time to meet firefighters and buy raffle tickets. The proceeds help firefighters buy items, such as smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, for the communities.
Whatever the reason residents wait for Santa and the firefighters, they are ready for them.
"We have people who buy bulk items at Sam's Club to give to us," Schiller said. "We put all the items in an ambulance, and by the end of the night, we are driving back to the (fire) station a couple of times to empty the ambulance."
At the end of the night, the items are driven to the charity. This year, the Community Crisis Center in Elgin was the benefactor of Rutland's Santa Run.
"Every year people are generous," Schiller said. "We filled the ambulance three times in one night this year. The runs have been going on so long that people count on them to be a part of their holidays."