CROWN POINT | What started with two friends on an early morning jog each Christmas Eve has evolved into a charity event growing each year in size and contributions.
Allan Nalbor and a friend wore full Santa suits as they headed out on their morning route up and down Crown Point's Main Street, ringing bells and waving to passers-by, said Timothy Fealy, coordinator of what has become an annual Santa Run now held in three area communities.
The first is at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Hobart Community Center.
"They thought it would be a fun way to spread holiday cheer," Fealy said, of the two men who inadvertently started the event in the late 1980s.
"People smiled and waved and honked their horns, and seemed to, at least for a moment, put aside the rush and worry of the holiday season," Fealy said.
Fealy joined the two men on many of those early runs, but he saw the potential for more.
"I envisioned hundreds of Santas walking or running and spreading holiday cheer not only for the benefit of passers-by, but for the community as a whole," Fealy said.
Fealy made his vision a reality starting in 2010.
That year, 50 Santa Run & Walk participants raised donations for the Lake County Animal and Adoption Shelter.
In 2011, 200 runners and walkers dressed in Santa gear raised $1,500 to be divided among St Jude House Family Violence Prevention Center, St. Mary Community School and the Crossroads YMCA.
By last year, those organizations and several others benefited when 500 participants raised just more than $4,000.
In 2012, the event was expanded to include Santa Runs in Hobart and Highland, on successive weekends.
The Hobart Santa Run in its first year attracted 75 people and raised $450 for the Hobart Police K-9 unit, Fealy said. Just as in Crown Point, runners in Hobart trekked through the city's downtown.
The Highland Santa Run at 7 p.m. on Dec. 13 will be a first-ever evening event, with participants invited to add Christmas lights and glow sticks to their holiday running attire.
Also new this year, participants are able to choose a local school, church or organization as the recipient of their sponsor pledges, Fealy said. Money collected by the participant goes directly toward the cause of their choice.
Some organizations have submitted wish lists, including for a new heating system in the children's playroom at St. Jude House; new equipment for the kids' activity room at Crossroads YMCA and donations for the chess club, robot club and other after-school programs at St. Mary Catholic Community School.
Organizing the events means finding sponsors, tracking registrations and planning for three separate routes.
"The work is overwhelming," Fealy said. He adds, "I did this because I wanted people to have choices, not only with the different routes but also with the organizations that would come out in support of it."
Fealy has watched the event grow from infancy.
"Allan and his friend created the run," Fealy said. "With Allan's blessing, I took it and turned it into the event it has become today."
For more information or to register for the event, go to HometownHappenings.net.