Operation Ho Ho Ho trades helicopters for road convoy

It’s long been known that when the weather gets bad and Santa’s flight operations are jeopardized, he turns to Rudolf the red nosed reindeer and his ultra-bright red nose to eliminate the weather threat and carry on with his Christmas operations. But just like his sleigh, Santa doesn’t lend Rudolph to anyone. Period. Not even the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 400 Air Maintenance Squadron from CFB Borden so they can help a special group of Santa’s elves to execute Operation Ho Ho Ho.

An elf and a young Sick Kids patient take a break from crafting to dance and enjoy the live Christmas music played by a squadron member. Steve Bigg Photo
An elf and a young SickKids patient take a break from crafting to dance and enjoy the live Christmas music played by a squadron member. Steve Bigg Photo
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Each year a group of volunteer elves, who coincidentally all moonlight as members of 400 Squadron, partner with SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Ont., to run Operation Ho Ho Ho. The goal of the operation is to inject a few hours of pure Christmas fun and cheer into the lives of the children and families who find themselves unfortunately in need of care from the SickKids Hospital at a time of year when they ought to be thinking about celebrating the holidays. The elves visit the hospital with gifts for the kids, sing songs, dance and make crafts with them and their families. This year celebrates the 15th running of Op Ho Ho Ho, and the elves were particularly excited to see the kids.

The Commanding Officer of 400 Squadron, LCol Sheink, works with a young Sick Kids patient doing crafts during the squadron's Operation Ho Ho Ho. Steve Bigg
The Commanding Officer of 400 Squadron, LCol Sheink, works with a young SickKids patient doing crafts during the squadron’s Operation Ho Ho Ho. Steve Bigg Photo

Like Santa though, the elves are at Mother Nature’s mercy. And as anyone in aviation knows, Mother Nature doesn’t care how important your mission is. Usually the elves travel by CH-146 Griffon Tactical Transport helicopter to the rooftop of SickKids. But this year, without being able to borrow Rudolph, fog, mist and drizzle on the morning of Op Ho Ho Ho scrubbed their flight.

But the Elves and 400 Squadron are agile operators and adapted to the situation. Instead of flying to SickKids, four trucks were quickly loaded with the elves and other volunteers from the squadron along with the toys, and the magic was delivered by road convoy. The day was saved and the elves with gifts in hand arrived at the hospital on schedule to distribute their magic.

A volunteer elf from 400 Squadron poses with a SickKids patient and his family for a picture during Operation Ho Ho Ho. Steve Bigg Photo
A volunteer elf from 400 Squadron poses with a SickKids patient and his family for a picture during Operation Ho Ho Ho. Steve Bigg Photo

The roughly 175 members of 400 Squadron play a much bigger role in Op Ho Ho Ho than simply providing transport for the elves. Despite their abundant generosity, the elves simply can’t afford to provide all the toys and gifts themselves, so the squadron lends a helping hand. Starting around April each year, they engage the local community to collect toy donations and raise funds to purchase more. Recognizing that Christmas isn’t just for kids and that the parents of SickKids patients could do with a pleasant surprise, coffee gift cards are provided to them to ensure they feel included.

This year the squadron members volunteered their time and effort to raise roughly $8,000 for the event. They made a point of thanking everyone who contributed and mentioned the Linda Knight Realtor Team, Optical Market, Beaver and Bulldog pub, the Borden Tim Horton’s and the Secretive Santa Claus Association, and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 499 who were especially generous.

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It's go time! The elves arrive on the rooftop helipad at SickKids hospital. Steve Bigg Photo
Usually the elves travel by CH-146 Griffon Tactical Transport helicopter to the rooftop of SickKids, but this year the flights were called off due to weather. Pictured is the Griffon arrival at the 2016 Op Ho Ho Ho. Steve Bigg Photo

The media relations staff at SickKids were hoping to broadcast the elves’ arrival by helicopter live on their social media this year, but the weather put an end to that. Maybe if the elves are extra good this year, they can soften up Santa and get him to allow Rudolf to lead the Griffons to SickKids and back if Mother Nature is having a bad day again next year.

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