Sunny Fornby, (left), and Madison Sherlin escort Santa into the CASA women’s shelter in Pine Bluff as they deliver gifts to children at the shelter on Christmas Eve. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Santa Claus made two special stops in Pine Bluff on Christmas Eve to bring cheer to young patients in the pediatric unit at Jefferson Regional Medical Center and children who are staying with their mothers at the CASA shelter for battered women.
On Christmas Eve many people stay at home with family and friends, but some children find themselves at the hospital and shelter. That is where representatives of the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club help Santa Claus find them and bring them gifts.
“It is great way to spend Christmas Eve when you look into the eyes of a child who thought Santa would miss him or her,” said Randy Dillinger, former president of the civic club. “It makes me very happy to bring them something special for Christmas.”
Businessman Rob Cheatwood and Dillinger have been “helping” Santa on Christmas Eve since the Rotary Club adopted the program seven years ago. Rotarians Cliff Cheatwood, Kayla Cheatwood, Liz Ellis and Shannon Smith joined the two and Santa, along with three elves, on Christmas Eve.
Doctors make an effort to discharge children from the pediatric unit so they can spend the holiday in a family environment, which means frequently there are no children in JRMC unit. Santa checked Monday morning and afternoon before heading out on his rounds.
Santa carries a few extra presents in his red bag “just in case” there are some late admissions. Santa’s elves carried sacks containing coloring books and stuffed animals to the pediatric wing for patients who might arrive later with little notice.
The stop at the shelter involved handing out presents to a dozen boys and girls ranging in age from newborn to 17.
Armed with a list furnished by Karen Palmer, CASA executive director, Santa’s helpers selected “age-specific gifts” on the list. Santa said he receives help from a grandmother, an elementary school teacher and a high school sophomore who “know what kids would like.”
“Thank you so much for thinking about us again this Christmas,” Palmer said in an email to Santa. “We appreciate you very, very much.”
With the new shelter opening earlier this year, Rotarians were told they could expect the number of children to increase with the expanded facilities.
The cost of the project has been underwritten anonymously by one Pine Bluff business and an “angel” in the community for several years. The civic club makes up the difference when Santa runs over his budget.