LOVELAND, Colo. – Now that Christmas is over, Santa is headed back home to the North Pole. But before he left, he made a couple hundred extra stops to see some very special children.
One of the most magical parts of Christmas is when a child finally gets to meet Santa Claus. It’s a simple joy, that isn’t so simple for everyone.
“She doesn’t walk, talk or eat on her own,” said Sarah Portillo, whose 14-year-old daughter Lily relies on a wheelchair and ventilator.
“I was thinking if we wanted to get her out to meet Santa, how on earth would we do it?” she said.
That’s when the idea for the Secret Sleigh Project was born.
“Suddenly I had an image of Santa coming into her room and her seeing him and smiling,” she said.
Within two weeks, a volunteer Mr. and Mrs. Claus visited Lily and 15 other sick children in northern Colorado.
“I love to see a child who’s had a difficult time light up like they haven’t in a whole year,” the group’s original “Mrs. Claus” Tina Olson said.
Now in its third year, the Secret Sleigh Project isn’t so “secret” anymore.
“This year we had families in 40 states,” Portillo said.
And dozens of Santa Clauses visited more than 200 special needs children.
“Some would drive two, three hours to go visit some of these kids,” she said.
But, as joyful as those moments are, there is heartbreak too.
“It’s very emotional to see a child who’s extremely ill and knowing that possibly this could be their last big visit,” Olson said.
Unfortunately, that happened this Christmas in Utah, when Santa made an emergency visit to a two-year-old in hospice care.
“He went and visited him and three days later he passed away,” Portillo said.
Their goal is to eventually visit every sick child across America and then the world, bringing a little Christmas magic to those who need it most.
Portillo says they are in need of more donations to pay for Santa suits, gas cards for Santa and Mrs. Claus volunteers and outreach.
They are also seeking nationwide Santa and Mrs. Claus volunteers. This year they were unable to fulfill visits for children in parts of Wisconsin, Mississippi, Texas, and Pennsylvania due to a lack of Santas in certain cities.