Pack Barrington's train station platform to support ill children

Seriously ill children from across the suburbs will find added excitement while they ride a special Metra train during Operation North Pole next month.

In a first-time effort, organizers want people to pack downtown Barrington's Metra station platform in a show of support for the children when the “Polar Express” slowly passes through at 12:44 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14.

Barrington Fire Chief Jim Arie said the crowd will assemble on the depot side of the platform. Visitors are encouraged to dress in holiday attire.

“Fire and police will be out there in gear, and we'll have lights on all the emergency vehicles,” Arie said. “It's kind of a community thing.”

Operation North Pole has created a fantasy day for seriously and terminally ill kids and their families during the holiday season since 2011. The goal is for the children who have spent a lot of time in hospitals to simply have fun.

About 500 volunteers organize the holiday adventure for 75 families, with the ordinary Metra ride transformed into the Polar Express on the Union Pacific Northwest Line tracks between Des Plaines and Crystal Lake. After the train ride, a party in a “Winter Wonderland” setting will be held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

Des Plaines Fire Chief Alan Wax — also known as “logistics elf” for the nonprofit Operation North Pole — said there has been visible support over the years at the Northwest Line train stations, but this year's plan is to create even more of a buzz.

“I guarantee you, they are inside the train watching everybody wave,” Wax said. “They're waving back, taking pictures or taking video. It's pretty special.”

Co-organizer Tracy O'Brien said Barrington's train station gathering will include a charitable tie-in. Donations of diapers, formula bottles and other necessities will be sought for Barrington-based Let It Be Us, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring foster care and adoption.

“It gives us another 'pay it forward' besides waving at the kids,” said O'Brien, adding she hopes the pack-the-platform idea spreads to other Northwest Line stops.

Last year, a procession of firetrucks and police cars escorted busloads of families to the Des Plaines Metra station to begin the day. Along with nurses and parents, the first responders helped children in wheelchairs and strollers off the buses.

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Operation North Pole provides 'holiday adventure' for sick kids and their families

  Seriously ill children from across the suburbs will find added excitement while they ride a special Metra train during Operation North Pole next month. This girl received assistance for the 2017 ride. Brian Hill/, 2017
  This child was among those who enjoyed Metra's "Polar Express" as part of Operation North Pole after the train departed Des Plaines last year. Katlyn Smith/, 2018
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