Med students organize a big gift from Santa

Rohan Chakrabarty (top left) and Dylan Hailey (middle) are surrounded by volunteers who helped purchase toys for Operation Santa’s Sleigh.

Santa drives a Lamborghini.

That was the case on December 11 when a couple of UMKC School of Medicine students who also happen to be car enthusiasts organized Operation Santa’s Sleigh, a parade of more than 30 exotic cars with police and fire department escort that delivered nearly $11,000 of toys and gifts to Children’s Mercy-Kansas City Hospital.

“Many kids get sick and find themselves in the hospital during the winter holidays, which is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year,” said UMKC medical student Rohan Chakrabarty. “We work closely with Children’s Mercy Hospital, so we chose to partner with them in a toy-drive project with a car-enthusiast twist.”

Chakrabarty and classmate Dylan Hailey are self-described car fanatics. Earlier this year the two decided to put their passion for cars to work organizing car shows and related charity events to benefit causes related to health care.

The pair organized their first event, a car show with the theme Cars Beyond the Boulevard, last May to benefit Care Beyond the Boulevard, a mobile medical clinic that serves the homeless and poverty stricken in downtown Kansas City. With the help of some of Kansas City’s leading car clubs, their show drew nearly 300 cars and raised more than $12,000 for the clinic.

“We had some goals in mind about how many cars we wanted and how much money we wanted to raise and we smashed all of them,” Hailey said. “It was awesome. We were just so stoked by how successful it was.”

It was enough that the pair went a step further in September, working with a lawyer the pair created their own non-profit organization. The 0-to-60 Foundation partners with some of Kansas City’s top car clubs, such as KC Exotics & Supercar Club and the Dream Team Car Club KC, to organize charity events.

“They have been super welcoming of us and, honestly, they really have become our friends and the community people we can turn to if we have questions about things,” Chakrabarty said. “We just used our passion and started networking with a bunch of these people. Obviously, they have a shared passion with us with cars and they liked hearing our story.”

Chakrabarty and Hailey put together an executive board for the 0-to-60 Foundation and with the help of medical students Lara Makhoul, Shelby Soukup and Isabella Boedefeld and others, assembled teams of nearly 50 students from throughout the UMKC community to help the cause.

The next idea was to create one big event that anyone – car enthusiast or not – could get involved with. That became Operation Santa’s Sleigh. Reaching out to local companies and doing fundraisers, the foundation raised $10,832 dollars. More than 20 UMKC students and car club members then met to participate in two toy buying events at local Target stores. The first event filled more than 12 shopping carts with purchases.

The group also reached out to the Kansas City police and fire departments, which agreed to get involved and provide an escort for an exotic car parade that totaled nearly 50 vehicles from Kansas City’s World War I Memorial to Children’s Mercy to deliver the toys.

Many of those went to the hospital’s Snowflake Shop, which will allow families and patients to pick up gifts at no cost. Others will go to units throughout the hospital that can be used communally, Chakrabarty said.

“I can’t imagine being a kid during Christmas and having to be in a hospital, not to mention the other struggles those families are experiencing during this time,” said Chakrabarty, who had his own hospital experience as a child who underwent an open-heart surgery. “You put all that together and it made me feel like this would be something good for us to do.”

Chakrabarty and Hailey say they already have their next event in mind, organizing another car show to help Care Beyond the Boulevard raise funds to purchase and equip a new clinic bus.

“We think we could definitely blow some of the donations that we’ve had so far out of the water,” Chakrabarty said. “We’re thinking really big and want to make sure we make a really big impact. We have the gears turning in our heads.”

Of course, Chakrabarty is willing to admit that there may be a little more than altruistic motives behind their efforts.

“Some of these events are selfish for us because we get to see all the cars, and in some cases get to drive some of these cool cars,” he said. “That’s really awesome. It kind of comes full circle.”