Making Spirits Bright with Santa for Siblings

Kids who have a sibling in the hospital sometimes feel lost in the shuffle. When you add the hustle and bustle of the holidays, siblings may feel even more overlooked.

Enter some holiday magic that shines Rudolph’s nose right on siblings.

Each year, Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital partners with Fire Truck O’Toys to host a Santa for Siblings event just for siblings of patients at the hospital.

“We are a holistic hospital so we work to support families and siblings as well as patients,” explains Tricia Sievers, the Ranken Jordan volunteer manager who created the annual Santa for Siblings event in 2014. “Family members are often so focused on their child who is a patient that their other children don’t get as much attention. Santa for Siblings is a special time just for siblings so they know they’re appreciated, too.”

This year, Santa for Siblings was held Saturday, Dec. 11, at Ranken Jordan.

Before the pandemic, Santa would arrive at Ranken Jordan’s main entrance on a fire truck loaded with toys. Families would participate in various activities and games and siblings could visit Santa’s workshop to pick out toys.

Sievers and her “elves” tweaked the Santa for Siblings event to be more COVID-friendly the past two years but Santa and toys still take center stage. One family at a time enters through the hospital’s ambulance bay away from patient areas. Families are screened and escorted to a special room to see Santa virtually. Siblings can then visit Santa’s Workshop to pick out three toys and a stuffed animal.

Sievers says sometimes kids forget the toys are for them and start picking out toys for their sibling in the hospital instead. They are amazed they get to keep the gifts. Others experience receiving Christmas gifts for the first time.

“After visiting Santa’s Workshop, one little boy asked his grandma, ‘Is this what Christmas is like?'” Sievers recalls. “We’ve even had some kids pick out a gift for their mom. When you hear stories like that, it makes it all worth it. It’s awesome to see how happy families are and for parents to see their kids so excited. Even older kids are grateful to be able to come and have time just for them. Our Santa for Siblings event speaks to Ranken Jordan’s mission of looking at the whole child and supporting the whole family.”

Planning for Santa for Siblings begins months ahead of time. Sievers is thankful for her team members who help make the event so successful. They work together to organize donated toys and create a magical experience for families.

“Our social workers, recreational therapists and child life specialists along with other staff and volunteers are a big part of the event,” Sievers says. “Megan Cassani, who is our patient and family engagement liaison, also has been a key person involved and did a fabulous job scheduling all the families.”

This year, 54 siblings shopped for their gifts in Santa’s Workshop. The toys were all donated by Fire Truck O’Toys, a non-profit organization that collects toys at various businesses and distributes them to six area children’s hospitals each year.

“We truly appreciate the generous support from Fire Truck O’Toys that benefits not only the siblings but also our patients,” Sievers says.

After the official Santa with Siblings event, any remaining toys are brought to another Santa’s Workshop at Ranken Jordan that houses all the gifts from the community and other organizations for patients.

Every child at Ranken Jordan is sprinkled with gifts. Recreational therapists and child life specialists visit the workshop to choose toys for patients. Therapists also pick out holiday gifts for outpatients. In addition, the patient care team selects toys to use throughout the year for therapeutic uses.

Cassani also reaches out to families so they can shop for other gifts to use throughout the year, such as for patient’s birthdays or other celebrations.

“We use the community’s generous donations in so many different ways to support the hospital and families,” Sievers explains. “Every item benefits families.”

She says she believes Ranken Jordan is the only local hospital that holds a separate toy event just for siblings. Ranken Jordan patients aren’t left out though. Thanks to the Maryland Heights police and fire departments, Santa made his annual trek to Ranken Jordan and arrived Friday, Dec. 17, with plenty of toys for the patients.

“Both these events remind our staff of why we’re here and really boosts the giving spirit,” Sievers says.