Operation Ho Ho Ho spreads Christmas cheer at SickKids

Santa is quite fussy about letting anyone else using his sleigh. He’s way fussier than dad with his car. So, if the elves have a job to do, they need to make their own arrangements and the sleigh stays put.

But, just like teenagers, when the elves need to get somewhere they simply call a friend for a ride. Every Christmas, they ask the RCAF’s 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron from Canadian Forces Base Borden, near Alliston, Ontario, to help out with Operation Ho Ho Ho.

For 13 consecutive years, members of 400 Squadron have organized and executed the operation, flying the elves in CH-146 Griffon helicopters to The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, where they deliver some pre-Christmas joy to young patients and their families.

Two 400 Squadron CH-146 Griffon helicopters en route to Toronto's SickKids Hospital to drop off Santa's elves for Operation Ho Ho Ho. Steve Bigg Photo
Two 400 Squadron CH-146 Griffon helicopters en route to Toronto’s SickKids Hospital to drop off Santa’s elves for Operation Ho Ho Ho. Steve Bigg Photo
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The squadron runs a gift and fundraising campaign that reaches far beyond its members. Other units on the base, local businesses and members of the public are encouraged to donate products or funds. If the donations are in line with the kids’ wish lists, they’re held for delivery. Other products are used in silent auctions and different fundraisers to augment cash donations for the purchase of additional gifts.

The squadron extends the operation as wide as possible by engaging other Canadian Forces units, such as Defence Research and Development Canada’s Toronto Research Centre in Downsview, to help with the fundraising. This year, the campaign raised more than $15,000 (approx. US$11,241) for kids staying in the hospital.

It's go time! The elves arrive on the rooftop helipad at SickKids hospital. Steve Bigg Photo
It’s go time! The elves arrive on the rooftop helipad at SickKids hospital. Steve Bigg Photo

But once the fundraising and gift buying is done, it’s time to get tactical.

With the elves set to deploy on Dec. 14, 2016, the squadron fuelled and prepped two Griffon helicopters, loaded up the jolly little folk and the gifts, and took off for the rooftop helipad at the hospital.

Hospital patients make Christmas crafts with Santa's elves during Operation Ho Ho Ho. Steve Bigg Photos
Hospital patients make Christmas crafts with Santa’s elves during Operation Ho Ho Ho. Steve Bigg Photo
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Landing a helicopter on a building helipad requires some advanced flying skills, and the pilots and crew of 400 Squadron appreciate the chance to practice. Op Ho Ho Ho lets them do just that, while helping the elves and ultimately providing sick children with a fun distraction from their illnesses.

Once again, this year’s mission was a huge success.

The elves deliver some pre-Christmas joy to young patients and their families. Steve Bigg Photo
The elves deliver some pre-Christmas joy to young patients and their families. Steve Bigg Photo

When the elves and 400 Squadron members returned to CFB Borden, they debriefed the operation and began their planning for 2017.

With a long history of supporting SickKids hospital, it’s a good bet that 400 Squadron helicopters will be delivering holiday joy to young patients for years to come–even if Santa’s sleigh remains off limits.

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