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Volunteers deliver packages of holiday cheer to patients at Buffalo General

Santa and Mrs. Claus, along with some helpful elves, spread holiday cheer on Christmas Day to patients at Buffalo General Medical Center.

The small band of volunteers – armed with presents donated by staff and 100 gift bags contributed by a former patient – went room to room to bring holiday spirit to the 340 bedridden adult patients temporarily living in 35 units of the 16-floor hospital.

“He’s a cheery guy there, a good Santa,” said Joseph Chmielewski of Holland, recuperating from a hip replacement.

”That was pleasant. It makes you feel good,” said Marcus Caughen after Santa left his room. Caughen, of Buffalo, is in the hospital for a blood transfusion to help his ailing kidneys.

Father Richard Augustyn, Buffalo General’s longtime director of pastoral care and now of its volunteer services, said spreading a little holiday joy boosted the spirits of family members, including children, as well as patients.

The visit from Santa – there were actually two helping out – took on added meaning, Augustyn said, for those without family or friends to visit them.

“A lot of the patients that we visit on Christmas Day, believe it or not, are alone,” he said.

Augustyn said the staff responded enthusiastically to the call for gifts. Staffers were asked to keep the gifts to a $10 limit, and 400 were collected.

Debra Brownsey, a nurse manager dressed as Mrs. Claus, coordinated the effort with Augustyn. About 15 volunteers aided the floor-by-floor effort that was expected to take several hours to complete.

One Santa, portrayed by Richard Hummert, whose flowing white mane and long white beard also serve him well when he works part time as a shopping mall St. Nick, entered each room with a warm greeting, “Hey, how are you doing, pal?” or “Hey, sweetie pie, how’s it going?’”

Felice McMillion watched as her father, Nathaniel, who had come back to his room from having an MRI, was unresponsive to Santa’s small talk. But a few minutes later, she said the visit seemed to have buoyed his spirits.

“It really helped him; he woke up right after Santa left. I thank them very much,” McMillion said of the volunteers.

Patient Marjorie Hicks of Arcade was also appreciative. “That was very nice. It brings a little happiness to this kind of day. I’m a big Christmas person,” she said.

The volunteers said they, too, got a lot out of the opportunity to make someone’s Christmas merrier.

“It’s been a hard year for us,” said Kasey Hoar, who was volunteering with her sister, Samantha, and her parents, John and Anne, from Town of Tonawanda.

“We lost a family member, and decided that rather than have a sad day missing someone who’s not there, we would be with others who still are here and try to give back, and hopefully spread some cheer to everyone in the hospital.”