WINTER SPRINGS–“It’s so good to see my kid be a kid again” was a recent comment from a parent as she watched her seriously ill child make cookies with Mrs. Claus, create a toy with Tinker the Elf and spend time with Santa in his man cave.
Christmas Dreams provides Christmas experiences 365 days a year for children who are battling life threatening illnesses and their families. Several programs are offered, some in conjunction with other charities, to help families create memories, discover hope and bring Christmas cheer to families who desperately need it.
“It gives us the opportunity to love on these families, and sometimes it’s in March or June,” said Senior Pastor Jeff Dixon.
This has been the third year of operation for the “Christmas is Coming” mobile experience, which is housed in a donated and revamped 42-foot trailer. Complete with wheelchair lifts, lights and tools, the trailer is staffed by a volunteer trained as one of the “Elves Force.”
In December the trailer is transported by the Seminole County Sheriff’s Department to the parking lot of Orlando’s AdventHealth hospital for a week when parents can make an appointment for their child to spend time with Mrs. Claus, Tinker the Elf and Santa. The experience also includes a 22-foot snow globe for children to play inside and have their photo taken.
Between eight-to-nine families are served each day during that week.
“It’s an intimate experience, tailored for each child,” said Dixon. During the remainder of the year, the trailer is parked and utilized at the church.
Volunteers during “Christmas is Coming” week deck out the children’s wing of the hospital with Christmas decorations.
“This doesn’t cost the hospital anything,” said Dixon. “We do it for the families.”
Santa also spends time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) visiting babies and encouraging siblings and parents whose babies won’t be home in time for Christmas.
“We’re trying to do ministry, create moments that will become memories and meet kids and families at their point of need,” said the pastor.
One need was met when church members heard of a family living out of their car while their child was undergoing treatment. The church provided a week’s stay in a local hotel and volunteer elves decorated the hotel room for Christmas. Santa arrived with a Christmas dinner for the family. Later learning the child had died, the volunteers went to the funeral to comfort the family.
Dixon called it a “great partnership of charity and ministry.”
As part of the ministry the church designed and created Elf University to train and prepare volunteers “walking into ‘holy ground’ as families invite them into their world when things aren’t going well,” said Dixon. Mrs. Claus, Santa and Tinker the Elf are members of the “Crinkle Cast” –positions that require auditions.
“I think that church and ministry need to be the best,” explained Dixon. “When people see the Christmas is Coming trailer, they see a state-of-the-art amazing, immersive Christmas experience. We strive for perfection, settle for excellence. You don’t get a do-over with these kids,” he said.
“We love others with the love of Christ and at whatever level they want to engage in spiritually.”
Plans include an indoor destination, North Pole themed resort and a Christmas Dreams theme park where families can come and spend several days anytime during the year.
“This ministry reflects the compassion of Christ and the generosity of the church.”