CHERRY VALLEY, Ill. (WTVO) — The hustle and bustle of going to see Santa doesn’t always come easy for families with special needs children.

To make sure everyone can visit the big man in red, Cherryvalle mall opened a little earlier on Sunday for their ‘Santa Cares’ visits.

It’s a common family tradition, heading to the local mall so kids can sit on Santa’s lap and share their wish-list.

However, for children with special needs, having to deal with the chaos of a busy mall isn’t always the easiest.

For the last four years Cherryvalle Mall and Santa have teamed up to make sure all kids feel included this holiday season.

“We want the families to be able to have that time and honor the tradition of visiting with Santa,” said Cherryvalle Marketing Director, Melissa Cavanagh. “What we’ve done is had this event prior to the mall opening. So we’re creating a sensory friendly environment, so we keep the music off, we keep the sounds to a minimum, we removed the lines.”

Jamey, his wife and son Kaden Funk headed to see Santa at the mall.

“Usually for autistic parents it’s very hard to get our children do normal things everyday, like see Santa Claus that we all take for granted,” said J. Funk. “We’ve tried to do Santa many of times in the past, and he has a meltdown usually at that time.”

The hoped the new features would let Kaden have a more enjoyable time.

“Them setting this up was probably one of the best things ever for us,” said J. Funk. “It gives them more one on one with Santa without waiting in long lines and all the hustle and bustle, and it’s easier for them.”

Kaden was even able to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas.

“A staroid,” K. Funk said.

For his family, it was something they won’t forget this season.

“It’s awesome. It makes you almost tear up,” J. Funk said. “He really loves Christmas, it’s his favorite time of the year.”

The mall usually sees up to 40 families come out to the event each year.

All tend to leave with the ‘magic of Christmas’ look on their face.


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