Santa Claus took a break Monday from last-minute preparations at the North Pole to make special deliveries of toys and clothing to children in Prospect Heights.
But Santa left his sled at home and instead made his way through the city aboard an ambulance as part of an annual event organized by the city's firefighters and police officers.
With the hope of making the holidays a little merrier for local families struggling to make ends meet, firefighters and police purchased gifts and clothes for 23 children from seven families. All the children were recommended by social workers in Prospect Heights, including Elementary School District 23 and Wheeling School District 21.
Police and firefighters also will be providing money to an elderly resident for holiday meals.
Firefighters partnered with various organizations in Prospect Heights to raise money for the toy drive, including police, city staff, the mayor's office, park district, Prospect Heights Lions Club and Garden Club. Local businesses also supported the cause, including, Lakeridge Builders, Heights Body and Motor Works, Fries Automotive, Player's Pub & Grill, Union Ale House and Rocky Vanders, and Wheel-Inn Body & Motor Works in Wheeling.
"We were able to raise more money and get a lot more people involved that way," Deputy Fire Chief Timothy Jones said.
By working together, community agencies raised $7,500 to make holiday wishes come true for needy children.
"Everyone involved in the Secret Santa Committee recognized that this was an opportunity to assist community families with basic needs," said Kathy Nowicki, Prospect Heights Park District executive director. "Plus, it puts smiles on the faces of all the children when Santa makes the family delivery."
He's not bringing lavish gifts, however. The children wanted mostly clothes, shoes, boots and winter coats, though each child also received one toy.
"We're in the business of helping people," Jones said. "This is just an extension of that. It just feels good to be able to give and make the holidays bright for families falling on hard times."