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Jingle Jet has holiday spirits flying high

by Olivia Kiespert / Dallas Stars

More than 15 children and their families enjoyed the Christmas of their dreams Tuesday afternoon as the third-annual Jingle Jet completed another successful flight to the North Pole. Jingle Jet was founded in 2006 by radio personality Tony Zazza as a way to give five local families in need a holiday experience they would not otherwise had.

“I remember as a kid that feeling you get, the butterflies in your stomach, waking up seeing if you were on Santa’s naughty or nice list and what he brought you,” said Zazza. “That feeling can’t be replaced. Just to be able to give these families that experience today and allow them a day where they don’t have to feel stressed or pressured is amazing. They’ve all been through different things this year; some hardships and some obstacles that they’ve had to overcome. Seeing each family and knowing those stories as they walk through the door and watching those smiles is priceless.”

Jingle Jet 2009 Photo Gallery
Tom Hicks, owner of the Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers, donated the teams’ private jet as transportation to the “North Pole”. Upon arriving, the families were greeted by none other than Santa and Mrs. Claus. Each family had a designated Christmas tree surrounded by wrapped presents and the Stars wives, along with players Mike Modano, Toby Petersen and Trevor Daley, were there to welcome the families and share in the holiday joy. 

“It’s really neat to see,” said Mike Modano of his first Jingle Jet experience. “I’m glad it worked out with our schedule that we’re here. It’s pretty special just to see some of the things they asked for. It’s kind of everyday stuff that you take for granted that they need. We’re glad we can get everything from cleaning stuff to bikes and whatever they wanted.”

After opening their presents, the children had the chance to enjoy everything else the North Pole had to offer: live reindeer, face painting, balloon animals courtesy of Santa’s elves as well as photo opportunities with Santa and Modano.

“This is what Christmas is all about; watching these kids’ faces light up when they open their gifts,” says Stars winger Toby Petersen. “We’re so used to buying for each other, buying family things, nice luxury items. But when you’re seeing these people needing basic necessities, it makes the Christmas experience that much more rewarding; just seeing how excited they are to get towels, pillows and things like that.”

Jingle Jet asked the families for Christmas wish lists but were given little information as to why it was needed. Families requested clothes and toys for their children, but everyday household items were also on the list. The Budge family received a basket of necessities, which included items as simple as tissues and mail envelopes. Mother Claudia Budge broke down in tears after unwrapping a vacuum cleaner.

“I think today made it so much more real, just meeting them, seeing how everything fit and the reaction to all of the toys,” said Holly Barch, wife of Stars forward Krys Barch and shopper for the Budge family. “It’s been a great experience for all of us, and it’s been very humbling. Things that we need every day, especially when you have children, those things are so important and I think I take them for granted. The reaction on her face when she opened the vacuum was just unbelievable. It’s wonderful to see them so happy with everything.”

Heidi Fisher nominated the Budge family because of their continued commitment to their community despite their own financial struggles. Both parents are teachers and have limited incomes. Their youngest child was clipped by a car, hit her head and has suffered seizures since, making health expenses unbearable. To be able to help bring a memorable holiday experience to the Budge family brought tears to Fisher’s eyes.

“It’s like a million Christmases over,” said an emotional Fisher. “To just see how much it means to them is overwhelming. This family literally doesn’t have much, but they would give everything they have. To see them be blessed the way they’ve blessed other people’s lives is just amazing. I can’t thank the Stars and Tony Zazza enough for everything they’ve done to make it so phenomenal.”

“It’s such an emotional day and is so rewarding for everyone involved,” said Carla Rosenberg, executive director of the Dallas Stars Foundation. “The kids walk in to the North Pole and they don’t even know where to go first. They’re overwhelmed by all of the presents, and the winter wonderland created, that they’re just taking it all in. Once they get to their tree and start opening presents, they’re just so grateful for every little thing. They aren’t expecting any of this, so it’s just a great feeling to see all the smiles and excitement.”

The ultimate winners of the afternoon were the children. Seven-year-old twins Josh and Zachary Ledbetter were in awe of their entire Jingle Jet experience. The Ledbetter family actually received four separate Jingle Jet nominations from four different individuals. The boys lost their younger brother, Caden, in September after a two-year battle with Neuroblastoma. The family lost their grandmother earlier this year as well. The medical expenses combined with home repairs from water damage erased any finances to provide Christmas for the twins. Tuesday’s trip to the North Pole not only helped to lessen the financial stress of the Ledbetter family, but it also allowed the boys to have an unforgettable Christmas experience.

“I got a Nerf gun and Mario Kart Wii, which I really wanted – it’s awesome!” exclaimed Josh, who was proudly wearing his new autographed Marty Turco jersey. “We got clothes and we get to go to a Dallas Stars game tomorrow and on the 29th. I like Turco because he’s a goalie and I played goalie in soccer. Now I want to be a hockey goalie just like him.”

“The flight to the North Pole was really cool and happened so fast!” adds a grinning Zachary, who was also wearing his brand new Stars jersey. “I have too many presents. I got a Brad Richards jersey and he’s my favorite! I’m so excited I’m going to a game tomorrow and on the 29th.”

The Stars’ wives and girlfriends took on this project as part of their community outreach. They became very attached to their families throughout the entire Jingle Jet process. After nominations closed Nov. 30, the stories of every nominated family were read and five lucky families were selected to visit the North Pole. The wives were split into five groups and were given a family.

On Dec. 15, the wives joined Tony Zazza and the nominators of each family to go shopping for presents. This year, unlike previous years, it was entirely up to the wives to fund the Christmas experience for their selected family. The ladies did not disappoint as they were eager to find outfits in just the right sizes and colors as well as toys the children wanted.

“You spend so much time in your life just trying to do all of these different things for your career and for yourself, so it’s really nice when your careers pays off to a point where you can actually do things for other people,” said Mandy Modano, wife of Mike Modano. “It’s funny because you can look at a list and you can think this means this to a person, but it’s not until they open it and see their reaction when you’re like, ‘that meant a lot.’ To be a part of something in the community like this is such a gift to us. They have no idea. They think we’re the ones doing the giving, but really I think we’re receiving more than we’re giving.”

This event would not have been possible without gracious sponsors Zazza Media Strategies, the Dallas Stars, Bill Reed, O2Kool Entertainment, Quest Drape, NoFrills Grill, the Texas Rangers, Hansen Video, Jesuit Baseball, Anderson Crenshaw & Associates, and Metroplex Baby.

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