Santa to arrive next week!

Chamber planning 20th annual Christmas kickoff
Pam Monson

    “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind — and that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m here, maybe I can do something about it,” said Kris Kringle in “Miracle on 34th Street.”
    In the award winning Christmas movie, Kringle, also known as Santa Claus, explains that he’d been worried that Santa Claus was getting lost in the shuffle as Christmas became commercialized. But here in Wilmington, 72 years after the cinema classic premiered, Santa will still be in a place of honor as the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce presents its 20th annual Winter Wonderland lighted Christmas parade.
    The “Miracle on 34th Street”-themed parade steps off Saturday, Nov. 24, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, at 5 p.m., from the middle school campus. It heads north on Water Street to delight the throngs of good little girls and boys. The parade is just the beginning of the community Christmas kickoff.
Season of giving
    The parade is the highlight of a weekend that’s all about giving thanks, and sharing with those who are less fortunate. Next week volunteers will be distributing contribution boxes for the Chamber’s Elf Contest, which benefits the Christian Help Association (CHA). CHA provides holiday meals to struggling families, and ensures each child in those families receives gifts for Christmas.
    Each penny dropped in an elf box is a vote for the elf contestant or contestants pictured on the front. Residents are encouraged to vote for their favorite, and vote often.
    One hundred percent of the proceeds from the Elf Contest are given to the CHA for its holiday endeavor.
    In addition, a new youth ministry of the St. Rose and St. Patrick Catholic parishes will be filling a truck with non-perishable food, paper and personal care items to help the Kuzma Care Cottage provide for families in need through the winter months.
    Parade-goers are asked to bring non-perishable food items, toilet paper, paper towels or personal care items for the young people to collect. (See related story)
    The Christian Help Association’s gift trees will also start appearing in local businesses and churches this week. Residents can help the organization provide a just-right Christmas gift for the child described on the tag. They just have to pick a tag, purchase an appropriate gift and bring it back to wherever they picked up the tag. CHA volunteers will do the wrapping and distribute the gifts with their holiday food distribution.
Before the parade
    There’s plenty to do before the parade, and shopping tops the list. Nov. 24 is Small Business Saturday, and the Chamber encourages residents and visitors to stop in and see the amazing array of items available right here in Wilmington — often with deep discounts.    
    Milltown Market on North Kankakee Street continues its annual Christmas Show tradition Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 17,000-square foot market boasts 41 vendors and well over 200 consignors under one roof — you can spend hours shopping, and it’s all indoors.
    Finale Studio’s award winning Diamond Dancers will begin their glittering holiday performances on North Water Street near the downtown intersection at approximately 4:30 p.m. Enjoy your favorite holiday tunes with the young ladies’ upbeat dance routines.
    The Mar Theater will hold a special holiday matinee. The doors will open at 2:30 p.m. for a 3 p.m. showing of “Miracle on 34th Street,” starring Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, Maureen O’Hara and John Payne. “Miracle on 34th Street” is about a nice old man who believes he’s Santa Claus, and agrees to be the Macy’s store Santa. He makes believers out of skeptics, including a little girl named Susan, who’s been raised not to believe in fairy tales. But his claim leads him to court for a hearing to determine his competency, and authenticity.
    The show time puts movie viewers in the area of the downtown in time for the parade. Admission is $1 and a non-perishable food item for Kuzma Care Cottage and the Christian Help Association, or $2 without a food donation.
The big event
     The parade will start promptly at 5 p.m. at Wilmington Middle School. It will roll on Ryan to Water Street to the post office. Santa Claus will make his first appearance of the season amidst twinkling lights, sleigh bells and cheerful strains of holiday music.
    The Wilmington Public Library District is holding a children’s coloring contest, and two winners will have the privilege of riding with Santa in the Tall Oaks Farm miniature horse-drawn wagon during the parade. The deadline for dropping submissions off at the library, at 201 S. Kankakee St., is Thursday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m. Winners will be notified. Find the entry art and details in this edition of The Free Press Advocate.
    The Chamber’s 2018 Business Persons of the Year, Tully Garrett and Holly Barker of The Launching Pad, will serve as the parade grand marshals.
    The parade, which has an average of 30 entries each year, will feature lighted floats and the Wilmington High School marching Wildcat band.

After the parade
    Following the parade, activities will take place on North Water Street, including the presentation of the Business Persons of the year award. To get everyone into the spirit of the season, the WHS Show Cats will sing carols beginning right after the parade. Although the Show Cats performance has always been in Claire’s Corner Park, this year it will move out onto North Water Street at Jackson Street, to provide the post-parade crowd with a better vantage point.
    Whitmore Ace Hardware will be serving popcorn during and after the parade in front of 120 N. Water St., and VFW Post 5422 is giving away bowls of chili and cups of cocoa in front of the Island Park District at 315 N. Water St. Youngsters will want to stop in at the Park District building, where they get to decorate a free sugar cookie. (Serving continues while supplies last.)
    Santa will begin his visits with children at approximately 5:30. Santa’s house will be parked near the intersection of North Water Street and Jackson Street.
    Downtown events are expected to end around 7 p.m., when Santa must be off to visit with more good girls and boys in the North Island Park. That’s where the Lions Club’s annual Island Christmas display, a series of holiday characters and scenes celebrating the season, opens as soon as the parade ends.
    The Lions have arranged for the Tall Oaks Farms miniature horses to give carriage rides on opening night. The Lions will also serve cocoa that night and each weekend through Christmas.
    Island Christmas can be visited throughout the month. Visitors will find photo opportunities, craft sales and coloring pages most evenings, and be challenged by events such as the pickle hunt, Minion Mondays and the search for the hidden Gemini Giant.
    The Boy Scouts Rainbow Council’s district executive will have a table on opening night to explain the BSA’s new program for girls and gauge interest in starting a troop here. The Lions Club would be the charter organization
    The Island Christmas display will be lit from 6 to 9 p.m. until Jan. 1. There is no charge to enjoy the show, but the club does accept donations for the Kuzma Care Cottage.

Food collection during parade

    Local kids will be collecting non-perishable food and personal care items for the community’s less fortunate families during this year’s Chamber Winter Wonderland Christmas Parade on Saturday, Nov. 24.
    According to Brandi Schlieper, this will be the second activity offered for members of a youth group being formed at the St. Rose and St. Patrick Catholic Churches. The group, which accepts kids in 6th through 12th grades, kicked off with a bonfire.
    Youth group members will walk along the parade route and accept non-perishable donations from spectators, and hope to pack a pickup truck before the parade ends.
    The donations will be given to the Kuzma Care Cottage, the Wilmington area food pantry that serves hundreds of less fortunate families.
    Some items are in demand at the panty because they’re hard to obtain from the Northern Illinois Food Bank, according to Kuzma director Heather Hobbs. Canned vegetables and soups are currently the most needed items, but any shelf-stable food is accepted, including rice, pasta, cereal, cake mixes and canned fruit.
    The cottage is also in desperate need of toilet paper, a necessity in any household, which cannot be purchased with food stamps. In addition, paper towels and facial tissue, as well as laundry and bar soap, shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant are always appreciated.    
    As the youth group becomes established, the participants will be separated into two groups, for sixth through eighth graders and ninth through 12th graders. They’ll be brought together for some activities.
    The program is still in the planning stage and regular meetings haven’t yet begun. Parents interested in learning more about the youth group can contact Schlieper at Youth do not have to belong to either parish to participate, the organizers just wish to get youth involved.