Photo of happy child on Mom's lap in a Christmas setting

All Aboard the Polar Express

This weekend, we rode the Polar Express with families from Ronald McDonald House of Southern New Jersey. 

“This was a wonderful opportunity to spread holiday cheer among families who are struggling with their children’s illness,” said Elena Piperno, Domenica Foundation director. “We couldn’t pass it up—so we took the presenting sponsorship.”

Child on train smiling at Santa Claus

Ronald McDonald House provides lodging and other support for families whose children are undergoing long-term medical care at local hospitals. All 25 families at the Camden house participated in the Polar Express on Saturday.

Children and adults were given pajamas to wear. A bus picked them up at the Ronald McDonald House and brought them—with a fire truck escort!—to the Camden train station. There the families were met by conductors and boarded a New Jersey Transit train decked out as the Polar Express. 

On the way to the North Pole (aka Burlington), Santa’s helper read aloud Chris Van Allsburg’s book The Polar Express. Lunch was served, Christmas songs were sung, and families had a jolly time.

Things got even more jolly when Santa boarded the train. (There’s a quick movie at the bottom of this page.) Santa greeted every child and gave each one a bag of train-themed gifts.

“It was truly magical,” said Elena. “The children’s smiles were priceless, but, for me, the greatest joy was watching the parents, mostly moms, have the time of their lives, laughing, dancing, and singing together.

“These moms’ daily routines are full of treatments, hospital visits, and worries about their child’s health. We were happy to give them a break full of joy and cheer.”

The families came from all over the US and the world. Elena talked with a mom who came from Iraq for her son’s treatment for a muscular disorder. She also spent time with a mother whose two-year-old daughter was being treated for leukemia. “I was so happy to see these mothers smile!” Elena said.

WPVI Philadelphia covered the event here. See more photos on our Facebook page. And below is a short clip of Santa’s visit.