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posted: 11/14/2013 6:14 PM

Santa's visit to Westfield shopping center includes a big gift for local firefighters

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Santa is coming to Westfield Hawthorn shopping center in Vernon Hills on Friday but he'll leave the reindeer at home.

Instead, the big man is scheduled to arrive at the GAP Court on an all-terrain vehicle to present the Countryside Fire Protection District with a big gift and start the holiday season.

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The public is invited to the event from 7 to 8 p.m. that also will feature holiday "mocktails" and hot chocolate, a performance by "Those Funny Little People" and the distribution of fire safety information.

Westfield will present Fire Chief Jeff Steingart with a $200,000 donation to show its commitment to the community and to celebrate an ongoing, $50 million mall expansion.

Countryside, which is based in Vernon Hills, responds to more than 3,800 calls per year with a staff of more than 82 full and part-time, contract and volunteer personnel. The donation is to offset the district's capital costs associated with the expansion, and will be used toward the replacement of an ambulance or incident command unit.

"We are making this financial contribution to the Countryside Fire Protection District to assist the district in making capital improvements to better serve the mall and the general public," said Jeffrey Rutzen, marketing director.

Planned mall improvements include: upgraded entrances; a Dave & Buster's arcade/restaurant; 12-screen AMC Theaters to be built as a new entrance between Sears and JCPenney; new restaurants including Maggiano's Little Italy; and, a fully renovated dining court.

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