Santa Cops Aims to bring Cheer to Children of East Tennessee

Members of the 134th Security Forces Squadron pose for a photo during their annual "Santa's Cops" visit to the East Tennessee Children's Hospital. (Air National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Lindsey Watson-Kirwin)

Members of the 134th Security Forces Squadron pose for a photo during their annual "Santa's Cops" visit to the East Tennessee Children's Hospital. (Air National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Lindsey Watson-Kirwin)

Knoxville, Tenn. --

For the ninth year running, Airmen made the procession through the bright halls of East Tennessee Children's Hospital on Dec. 6, 2008 to bestow holiday cheer and presents to patients, families and staff. This noble endeavor was started in 1999 by Senior Master Sgt. Steven Payne and Master Sgt. Richard Parker. 

Santa Cops raised $684.00 in the inaugural year and continued climbing each year thereafter. The amount raised in 2008 was an unprecedented- more than $17,000.00! Master Sgt. Parker took over the reins of this massive project in 2007 due to Senior Master Sgt. Payne's move to Wing Staff. 

The 134th Security Forces Squadron is the main force behind this project but receives a tremendous amount of support from other areas at McGhee Tyson ANGB. Many members of McGhee Tyson ANGB not only supported Santa Cops by opening their hearts and wallets but, many also volunteered their time. The night before the hospital visit, approximately 60 volunteers shopped for gifts. In fact, so many gifts were
purchased the cash register crashed and all the gifts had to be rescanned. However, the volunteers took it all in stride knowing their efforts would be greatly appreciated. 

The 134th Security Forces Squadron would like to thank some special volunteers who played an integral role in accomplishing the Santa Cops Mission: Mr. Paul Cording (FAA tower) played the role of Santa Claus, Staff Sgt. Bertha Rider (SFS) was Mrs. Claus for the day, Staff Sgt. Gabriel Griffin (SFS) was Sponge Bob Square Pants and those serving as elves included-Tech. Sgt. Joseph Hungate (SFS), Tech. Sgt. Samantha LaRue (MSF), Amn. First Class Jessica Kreis (FM) and Amn. First Class Mydia Gibson (MDG).

The characters noticed that the tone of the event alternated between somber and serious in the hallways to sunny and upbeat once they entered the rooms. The entire cast felt the tension and seriousness of the issues the patients were facing as they passed through the many rooms and hallways. 

The sadness felt was worthwhile once smile came across the patients face. The excitement was shared by the families and staff of the hospital. The children's faces would begin to beam once they caught a glimpse of Santa and his entourage entering the room. 

One child was particularly delighted seeing Santa and his elves. Once Santa entered the room Justin Brooks exclaimed, "Oh boy!". Santa obviously knew what he was doing because Justin got all of his favorite things. His favorite show is Scooby Doo. He received not only a Scooby Doo ball, but also a Mystery Machine vehicle with Scooby Doo inside. Justin immediately said, "Let's get him out!", and set about trying free Scooby Doo from the Mystery Machine. 3-year-old Justin also has a horse on his farm back home named Yoshi. So, when he was handed a stuffed horse, he quickly named it "Yoshi!!!". 

Justin's parents, Britney and Billy, praised the hospital and the staff. Britney said,"it's been our home for the past three years. Ever since Justin and his twin were born we have spent numerous days here at Children's Hospital. It's been great here." She greatly appreciated being a part of Santa Cops saying, "It was wonderful, it was awesome...
He loves people coming in. He is a big people person." 

Justin is just one of many children who were helped by the Santa Cop's mission this year. No child was left without a gift. In fact, their family members were given gifts as well. Families received gift cards to local restaurants so they could get out for a meal. Security Force's student flight members carried bags containing contingency gifts for any unexpected patients and their families. 

Even with all those gifts being passed out there was still a little money left over to let the spirit overflow into other areas at the hospital. The Child Life Department received a check for $3,000. The Child Life Department provides activities and supplies throughout the year to children staying at the hospital. Sara Sealine, a Child Life Specialist, accepted the check. She explained that her department helped heal the spirit of the children. 

The day spent at Children's Hospital was enjoyed by all of the participants. They are already looking forward to the journey back in 2009.