Calling Children’s National “Home” for the Holidays Monday, November 24, 2014

The popular Christmas carol, “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,” is not a reality for some patients at Children’s National Health System, but our teams and volunteers work hard to make our families’ experiences as close to home as possible.

For Thanksgiving, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC, is providing a turkey dinner through Boston Market to families in the Hematology and Oncology floor unit. The charity’s board members plan on serving about 80 people, according to Ronald McDonald Family Room Coordinator, Volunteer Services Michelle Kong.

“There are several Hematology and Oncology families that generously give back to the unit during the holiday season with gifts, toys, and meals,” added Robin Stone, who helps to coordinate these gifts for the holidays.

Spending Christmas at Children’s National

Last December, this was a reality for Sierra Wilson and her sons, when she arrived at the hospital because 5-month-old Zion wasn’t gaining weight. He was diagnosed with ventricular septal defect and soon discovered he needed surgery and may be here through Christmas.

“I thought my kids wouldn’t have any gifts because I had no time to shop or wrap,” said Wilson. “But our time at the hospital was made so easy for us. I cried the whole week of the 20th because I just didn’t understand people were so nice.”

Wilson said she had expected that the staff and volunteers would go home, to their own families, and was surprised when they stayed with her and her sons.

“It was like Christmas morning with your family, even though we were at the hospital,” said Wilson.
Wilson said volunteers and staff helped her and her oldest son decorate Zion’s room, and they got to see First Lady Michelle Obama when she visited children to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

“Santa even came around Christmas day, now, what child gets to actually see Santa on Christmas?” said Wilson. “My oldest son still thinks he’s in Disney World every time we come back to Children’s.”

How Santa and Mrs. Claus Raise Spirits One Room At a Time

 “I’ve been a child life specialist for over 30 years and I have worked every one of those Christmases,” said Judy Ross.

Ross’ husband, Milton Shinberg, has been Santa at Children’s National for 10 years, and her daughters also volunteer as Santa’s helpers. In 2009, when the East Tower was built, Ross and Shinberg  decided to move to two Santas so they could divide and conquer the units. They wanted every child here on Christmas day to get a visit from Santa and a photo if they want it. If the patient is in isolation, they take photos of Santa ahead of time and leave the photos with the children.

“We go to every unit on ever y floor. Santa holds the NICU babies, and he visits the inpatient psychiatry unit to deliver messages of hope and good cheer,” said Ross.  “The families are so touched by the visit. I remember one little boy saying ‘He found me!’ Even though he was in the hospital, Santa found him.”

Child Life Specialists Replace Elves in Dr. Bear’s Toy Shoppe

Child Life at Children’s National set ups Dr. Bear’s Holiday Shoppe with all of the toy donations collected throughout the year through Volunteer Services’ Dr. Bear’s Toy Closet. The Board of Visitors volunteers are there to wrap the gifts, and volunteers also prepare bags of toys for various age groups to have on hand for children who get admitted the night before Christmas. Santa then delivers those on Christmas day. These gifts also go to patients who celebrate Hanukah.

“So every child who is here (admitted) on Christmas will have a present,” said Volunteer Services team leader Katherine Watts.

“We started a new tradition last year in our department called ‘Dr. Bear Gives Back’ where donors and volunteers donate money or gift cards to local grocery stores, and we then adopted one inpatient unit and gave out handmade Thanksgiving cards and $25 grocery store gift cards to each family on that unit the week of the holiday, to make their day a little brighter.”

Last year, thanks to a large stuffed animal donation around Thanksgiving, volunteers were able to give patients and siblings a stuffed animal, too.

Advice for Families Spending the Holidays with Children’s

“If you decorate the room and get your child involved and fill the holiday spirit in the room, it’s not that bad,” said Wilson. “So many children had to spend major holidays at Children’s National and a lot of staff and volunteers have to take care of these kids. Treat them like your family because they’re going to treat you like you’re family.”

How You Can Help

There are many ways you can help children who are in the hospital this holiday season – and make the holidays a little brighter for them and their families.

  • Help Fill Dr. Bear’s Closet. You can donate new toys to Dr. Bear’s Closet, or make a cash donation to help keep the closet stocked with games and toys year-round. Dr. Bear’s Closet accepts non-medical items for patients and families such as toys, games books, clothing, toiletries, and art supplies.  Please call 202-476-2062 to arrange a drop-off of toys or other items. View the wishlist.
  • Donate Online. You can make an online gift, honor a friend or relative, become a monthly donor, or give in other ways.
  • Give Blood. The holidays are a particularly important time to donate blood for our young patients, since many surgeries are scheduled over the school break and many of our regular donors are out of town.  


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