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Santa – and firefighters – spread Christmas cheer

Santa Claus walked down the hallway of the pediatric unit at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, rang a bell and quoted “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” Joining him in bringing cheer to sick children and nurses were current and former members of the Joliet Fire Department.

“Merry Christmas Santa” was heard up and down the halls, as he passed out candy canes and gave nurses hugs while they grabbed their coffees or went from patient to patient on a busy, snowy Christmas Eve.

Jashawn Mosby of Joliet was at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet with his mother, Marlisha Peten, when Santa walked in and handed him a toy out of his toy bag. Jashawn’s face lit up and he began to smile despite sitting in the hospital the day before Christmas. He gave Santa a big hug, and thanked him.

“This is nice. He’s been in the pediatric unit, so he has seen them around holiday time before,” Peten said.

Twenty-five years ago, Joliet Fire Department Capt. Ron Fox and Dave Brozman and Chuck Willard, who have both retired from the department, decided to visit sick children in the emergency room and pediatric unit of the hospital to spread some holiday cheer.

“When kids are in the hospital at Christmas, the best gift would be for them to be in the comfort of their own home, but when they can’t, we want to offer some cheer with Santa. We spread cheer for the nurses and see the kids, if we can put a smile on someone’s face, it was all worth it,” Fox said.

On Christmas Eve morning, Fox, Lt. Eric Mattson and Lt. Matt Ehrsam all met Santa at the main entrance of Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center. All said they were prepared with a lot of gifts, which were bought with funds collected throughout the year, but if there weren’t any children, in the hospital, they would like that better.

“My favorite is not seeing many kids in the hospital,” Fox said.

The first recipients were two boys, Zander and Nathan Brown. They walked in with their mother, Jessica Brown, on their way up to see their father. Fox handed the boys fire hats and Santa handed them trucks and cars.

“This is really cool and awesome because this isn’t exactly the best place to be today,” Jessica said of Santa bearing gifts.

“This was good because Santa gives toys out,” Zander said.

The team then made their way to the emergency room and stopped to hand out hugs and candy canes to the nurses in the coffee shop. In the waiting room, Orlando Dominguez Jr. sat with his father, Orlando Dominguez Sr., Orlando Dominguez Jr. gave a thumbs down on how he felt that morning, but a thumbs up on Santa with gifts.

“This was unexpected, this was so nice,” Orlando Dominguez Sr. said.

As the group went around the hospital to various waiting rooms, they made their way up to the pediatric unit on the fifth floor. Two babies were in the unit, and could not be visited, so Santa handed two stuffed animals to staff nurse Rachel Mata and left a few more gifts in case other children came in later on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

“The children enjoy it, they don’t want to be here over Christmas, so this brightens their day and the parents really appreciate it, as well. The fire department gives back to us and we appreciate it,” Mata said. “We have gotten gifts from many organizations and even private donors who say they have gotten gifts here at Christmas and want to give back. The list keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Mattson said his favorite part of the morning was to hear the stories from the nurses and to pay it forward.

“Isn’t that good to do when someone is having a bad day?” Mattson said.

When asked his favorite part, Fox said, “Every year one kid lights up, and makes it worth coming back year after year. We want to make a difference.”