Angela Williams was perplexed as Santa Claus walked out of her daughter Brianna's room at Batson Children's Hospital.
Looking back at a big, red bag stuffed to capacity with gifts, then at the door, she said, “Santa, wait, you're leaving your bag!”
“That's for Brianna,” Santa said.
“Oh, my gosh,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “Thank you. Thank you all.”
More tears came when Deborah Bryant, wife of Gov. Phil Bryant, came in with a Walmart gift card for $30.
Gov. Phil Bryant and wife Deborah Bryant, along with Santa and Mrs. Claus, visit Batson Children's Hospital patient Joanna Belmontes Dec. 24.
Williams was part of a Batson tradition, the Christmas Eve visit from Santa, otherwise known as Dr. Rick Barr, head of pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and Mrs. Claus, aka Barr's wife Mary, along with Mississippi's first family. They delivered some 200 Christmas gift bags to children in the hospital over the holiday.
The production is months in the making, starting with the Mississippi Volunteer Homemakers stitching up a couple hundred drawstring bags from fabric sporting holly, Christmas cookies and motorcycles, depending on the recipient. Groups around the state have donated money and toys to fill the bags and make merry the spirits of children on the mend and their families. The week of Christmas, Child Life specialists are making like Santa's elves, packing up toys just right for each patient's age, gender and tastes.
“No one wants to be in the hospital,” Williams said, “especially at Christmas. But this was wonderful.”
Child Life specialist Pepper Weed-Cooper was sporting a headband topped with candy canes and helping move gift bags here and there Thursday morning.
“This is what Christmas is all about,” Weed-Cooper said, “to see the smile on a kid's face as Santa comes in. These are probably the biggest smiles we see all year.”
There were plenty of those. Makyla Hodge was bright-eyed and laughing with Deborah Bryant over the talking dolls Santa brought her, and Brandon Lewis was grinning over his dinosaur, cars and more.
Chief of nursing services Michelle Welander was making the rounds Thursday morning with the Grinch, her 13-year-old son Christian, lurking beside her. Patients loved seeing the Christmas villain dance into their rooms wearing a costume donated to the hospital by the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency.
Gov. Phil Bryant fills the hands of the brother of a Batson Children's Hospital patient with holiday candies during a visit to the hospital Dec. 24.
“This is Christian's first time to come,” she said, “so this is really neat for us. It's the start of our Christmas.”
Gov. Phil Bryant was dealing with leadership duties after tornados in north Mississippi Wednesday, but he made time to stop in to brighten the holidays of Batson patients and families.
“This is just the best thing to do at Christmas,” said Deborah Bryant. “We know people don't want to be in the hospital at this time of year, but we want to let these families know we all care about them.”