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Flight to the North Pole 2023

Local Love Soars at the Flight to the North Pole

The 2023 edition of the cherished "Flight to the North Pole" unfolded with an overwhelming surge of joy and warmth. Originating in 1985 through the vision of Eastern Airlines flight attendants and Sidney Ettedgui, this extraordinary event has gracefully evolved into a cherished annual tradition.

At Feld Entertainment Inc., reimagined as a whimsical Christmas Wonderland, more than 400 terminally ill children reveled in heartwarming festivities. Orchestrated by Sidney Ettedgui, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, and the Sarasota/Bradenton Airport Fire Department, the event seamlessly immersed children and their families in the enchantment of the season.

The iconic "Grave Digger," Monster Jam’s renowned monster truck, played a pivotal role in transporting "Santa," who, upon arrival, enveloped the children with heartfelt hugs, sparking palpable excitement. Within Feld, a Santa's workshop awaited, where children shared their wishes with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and received thoughtful gift bags.

Generous contributions from businesses and citizens in Manatee and Sarasota counties materialized in an outpouring of gifts, delectable food, captivating entertainment, and more. The end result was a spectacular Christmas extravaganza—a symphony of snow, elves, lights, and Santa Claus—granting each child not only gifts and photographs but also an abundance of cherished memories.

Amidst the festive atmosphere, families relished a delightful lunch, serenades by "Elvis" and other singers, all orchestrated by the dedicated efforts of volunteers. The atmosphere provided families a temporary reprieve from the burdens of illness, allowing them to savor the holiday season stress-free.

Faces of Resilience: Jude and Chandrea's Inspiring Stories

Gracing our cover is Jude, a 5-year-old with Down syndrome, autism, and a chronic heart condition, who has courageously undergone a couple of open-heart surgeries. His mom, Natalie McElyea, radiated happiness to be there alongside him.

Chandrea Hicks confronts the challenges of Aicardi syndrome, a rare disease for which they found themselves frequenting the hospital. For the Hicks family, the Flight to the North Pole extends beyond an event; it's a yearly family reunion, a community of love, and a celebration of resilience.

In the heartfelt words of Jenny Hicks, "We cherish moments like these because they connect us with people who love the community. It's an opportunity to get to know all the different families—it's like having a family reunion once a year. It’s heartwarming to witness the younger generation volunteering with the special needs kids."

An Unforgettable Community Gathering

Beyond the individual stories, the event itself became a beacon of hope. The heartwarming resonance of the "Flight to the North Pole" lingers in the memories of all who attended. The event showcased the community's unwavering spirit, proving that when compassion and unity converge, the result is pure magic. As the children and families departed, they carried with them not just presents, but a shared sense of hope and a strengthened bond within the community—a testament to the enduring power of love during the holiday season and beyond.

The "Flight to the North Pole" stands as a testament to the profound impact a community can have when it unites for a common cause. 

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