December 19, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 35

North Pole non-stop to Christmas joy

Spokane Fantasy Flight teams with local charities to provide a special day for underprivileged children

Most people think loud and excited children are the worst part of flying. For flight 1225, the plane is full of exactly those types of children who are all flying where every child wishes they could spend a day, the North Pole.

Spokane Fantasy Flight
Flight attendants provide treats and fun for local children and families during last Saturday\'s Fantasy Flight to the North Pole.

Aside from it's destination, flight 1225 is a once a year event put on by Northwest North Pole Adventures, commonly called Spokane Fantasy Flight.

"This is an opportunity to create a memory that will last a lifetime," Steve Paul, CEO and President of NNPA, said.

Saturday Dec. 14 will remain a special day in the minds of 63 local underprivileged children who spent the day touring the North Pole with their own elf escorts.

NNPA teams up with four local agencies to find children most in need of Christmas magic.

The Salvation Army, St. Margaret's Shelter, Transitional Living Center for Women, and St. Vincent de Paul's of Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls all contribute children who could most benefit from a day at the North Pole with Santa and his elves.

Unfortunately it is not possible to fly every deserving child to visit Santa, the event hosts children between ages 4-10 years old.

For five siblings too old, gifts were bought and delivered to them as their brothers and sisters headed out.

"These kids do not arrive with traditional back stories," Paul said.

The sense of joy and wonder is lost to many of these children who have difficult backgrounds. Enter Spokane Fantasy Flight and Paul.

All 63 children arrive at the airport and were immediately greeted by a hoard of Santa's best elves; here they each get a team shirt and passport photo to get them to the North Pole, along with their elf escort.

Before boarding the plane, each child goes through a new backpack just for them, which includes new school supplies, smaller toys and stocking cap that reads the North Pole motto, "Believe".

The plane was loaded and filled to the brim with excited children and of course all their elves.

Some children are veteran flyers who help calm down nervous elves unfamiliar with planes. Others hold hands and close their eyes for the ride.

"Kids scream with glee, and the adults scream with fear," Paul said. "The pilots really get into it and really use the power of the plane."

After a magical chant by all the passengers, the plane surges and lands at the North Pole runway.

Bernie, the head elf, leads the way into Santa's workshop, where the children will spend the rest of their evening.

Each child is guided around to different stations where they get to shop for a new set of pajamas, make a keepsake picture frame, and of course receive gifts from Santa directly taken from their lists.

Throughout the night the kids are entertained by juggler elves, have their faces painted, and are given a boxful of sweet treats.

At the end of the night, everyone gathers around the fireplace to receive one last gift from Mrs. Claus, a new pillow, blanket with the child's name embroidered, and a copy the "Polar Express."

Some kids cuddle up to their elves and follow along in the new copies as Mrs. Claus reads.

At the story's end, every elf presents their child with their very own bell from Santa's sleigh.

Finally it's off to the magic transporter that sends the kids back to Spokane to awaiting limousines to drive them home.

The last ten minutes of the event can be the most emotional, kids begging their elves to come home with them, requests to come back next year and floods of promises never to forget and always believe.

"Our goal is to give a child a magical day, but the elves each get a magical life," Paul said. "It reminds elves how joyful you can feel. It's a gift."

This event uses "easily over 350" volunteers.

From costumed elves, bakers, make-up artists, and numerous volunteers from Alaskan Airlines, Paul acknowledges the "deep commitment of the volunteers," some traveling in from as far Calif.

Paul also mentions the dedication of a guard elf that adjusts his schedule on an oilrig in Alaska to be available for Fantasy Flight.

The impression is not just left on the children and volunteers but also those involved more directly from the shelter.

"From the moment they picked us up to the end of the evening, it was magical," Marilyn Nelson, director at the Transitional Living Center for Women in Spokane, said. "This will forever change the kids who went on Fantasy Flight. They were full of love on the ride home."

Spokane Fantasy Flight has worked with TLC for years but this was Nelson's first experience with the event, "For each of the children to have had such individual attention through the evening made them see how special they truly are."

Northwest North Pole Adventures is a 501c non-profit organization founded in 2009 that grew from a nurturing and supportive relationship with the YMCA of Spokane.

In it's sixteenth year, Spokane Fantasy Flight is "a magic jewel, that volunteers are privileged to know the secret to," said Mrs. Claus before the event.

Kelsey Lavele can be reached at kelsey@cheneyfreepress.com.

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