Several truckloads of toys arrived at the entrance of All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg on Monday, delivered just in time for the holidays by not one man in a bright red outfit, but three.
Playing Santa on this happy occasion were three Tampa Bay Buccaneers special teamers - kicker Connor Barth, long-snapper Andrew Economos and punter Michael Koenen. That trio donated $5,500 worth of toys and games to All Children's "Wonderland" to ensure that hospitalized children will receive spirit-lifting gifts this year as they recover from injuries and illness.
The Wonderland, which will be open for patients on December 23-24, is a holiday workshop organized by the hospital's Child Life Department, where families are able to select free gifts for their children who are admitted to the hospital during the holidays. The three Buccaneers – Santa's Special Teamers, if you will – first discussed becoming involved several weeks ago, when Barth won a raffle prize while attending a medical conference with his mother being held at the hospital.
"I won an iPad Mini and they told me about the Wonderland," said Barth, who immediately donated the iPad to the Wonderland. "I said, 'I'm going to try to get my buddies together and see if we can help with the Wonderland and get these kids some great toys."
On Monday, the three players traveled to Walmart in St. Petersburg and filled shopping carts to the brim with items from All Children's Hospital "wish list." With some assistance from Koenen's wife and children, the three players' selections included board games, sports equipment, arts and crafts supplies, and Barth's favorite – a toddler's push-along Corn Popper.
After all of the gifts were purchased, the players drove to the hospital and helped unload the toys before greeting a number of patients enjoying an ice cream social with Buccaneers cheerleaders. Kristin Maier, the Director of the Child Life department at All Children's Hospital, saw the players' impact on the patients immediately upon their arrival.
"You saw the excitement as they walked in the room," Maier said. "Just having the presence of the players in the hospital brings a lot of joy to the kids."
For Koenen, the day helped him teach his own children the importance of giving back.
"It's one thing for me to give back, but for me to teach my kids the same thing is the world to me," Koenen said. "If something were to happen to my children, it would mean the world to me if somebody would come and do that for them."