Santas and Elves visit UNC Hospitals

For more than 25 years, Santas and elves have visited patients at UNC Hospitals as part of an annual event sponsored by the Volunteer Association. During their visits, they sing carols and deliver stuffed holiday bears to patients and their families, some of whom tear up, hug, and simply have a chat with Santa Claus.

Because pediatric patients tend to be the focus of donations this time of year, many years ago the Volunteer Association decided to do something special for adult patients at UNC Hospitals. 

"We wanted to provide adults with a holiday experience and so this tradition was started," explains Linda Bowles, director of Volunteer Services.

In the first year of the event, one Santa and 10 elves visited patients. Today, five Santas, 30 elves, and five pet-partner teams deliver more than 600 stuffed toy animals to patients and more than 500 candy canes to staff. 

"The event is so popular that it's difficult for all volunteers to get the opportunity to be an elf -- most of the elves return year after year," says Bowles. 

Every year, the Volunteer Association receives several handwritten notes from patients expressing their thanks for the event. Many enjoy having additional visits from the therapy dog teams, asking the dog to sit or lie on their bed for a few minutes to keep them company.  

"We have had patients tear up and say how much it means to be remembered this time of the year," says Bowles. "This is the special touch that volunteers bring to the high-tech health-care environment."   

Bob Hargraves has been a fixture at the event for several years, wearing his Santa suit - in Carolina blue.

"I enjoy playing Santa up here because my wife was treated here and my son is also a cancer survivor," says Hargraves. "It feels good to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

Read these quotes from staff and volunteers who participated in this year's event:

"This is my third year participating in this event as an elf and it's the most rewarding part of Christmas for me. My heart goes out to these patients and their families." Judy Rigsby, 13-year volunteer

"I just do it to help others and I love seeing patients have a smile on their face when they see us walk around the hospital." Miriam Elliot, volunteer

"I love helping and bringing joy to people at UNC Hospitals." Tamika Faison, volunteer since April 2014 

"I love the fact that for just two minutes you can allow the patient to forget why they're here and smile. The experiences I've had have been a gift and to me. This is giving back at an important time instead of thinking about ourselves." Susan Stockdale, Cancer Hospital gift shop

"I used to work with the Ringling Brothers circus group as a clown, so this is similar to what I used to do by bringing smiles and making people laugh." Matthew Wright, Santa Claus

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