Pulling a wagon full of Christmas presents behind him, 5-year-old Marcus Fenn was on a mission.
“I hope we can find some more Hot Wheels!” he told the Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital staff helping him pick out presents.
Marcus was one of the year’s first visitors to the Christmas store, a colorful room at the children’s hospital overflowing with enough toys, art supplies, books and video games to rival Toys R Us.
Kids who are sick around Christmas get a chance to find gifts for family members and wrap them with help from hospital volunteers.
“It’s wonderful,” said Jennifer Fenn, Marcus’ mom, who stays with Marcus when his short bowel syndrome causes problems that require hospitalization. “It’s really helpful when you’re in the hospital and you don’t have time to go shopping.”
The hospital has put together a Christmas store for at least five years, relying on gifts donated by corporations, the Providence Health Care Foundation and individuals, many of whom have benefited from the program in the past.
The Fenn family has spent the past two Christmases in the hospital, and came in again last Friday when Marcus developed a blood infection. With a hospital specialist in tow wheeling his IV, he picked out a “Frozen” blanket for his younger sister, Mia, who’s a fan of the Disney movie, and a rainbow set of stacking rings for his baby brother. The Hot Wheels were for him to keep.
Once his wagon was full of presents, Marcus moved to the wrapping table. Volunteers helped him pick bags and bows, and guided his hand to write names on the tags.
“From Marcus!” he said, with a satisfied nod as each gift made its way back into his wagon.
Elaine Couture, the CEO of Providence’s operations in Eastern Washington, helped Marcus wrap his sister’s blanket. She has helped provide toys in past years, but said it was her first year helping kids wrap their gifts.
“This is not the place they would choose to be if it weren’t for their illness,” she said. Coming to the Christmas store “gives them some sense of normalcy. … I think this is one of the best things they can do.”
Kids receiving outpatient care during Christmas week are also invited to shop. Kirsten Carlile, the hospital’s director of family support services, said about 90 kids are in the hospital right now, and estimated 20 or 25 would be spending Christmas there.
This year, the Christmas store began Monday morning and will stay open until 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve. That’s so kids admitted to the hospital late on Christmas Eve can find gifts for their families. If a child is too sick, siblings or parents can shop for them.
“It helps take their mind away from what’s going on at the hospital and makes them feel like a kid again,” Couture said.
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