On Tuesday, All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg received a very special delivery just in time for the holidays.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers long snapper Andrew DePaola, punter Michael Koenen, and kicker Patrick Murray served as "Special Teams Santas" for the day by delivering gifts and spreading some holiday cheer to young patients battling injury and illness at All Children's Hospital.
"We're a close knit unit, and we wanted to come out together, spend time together and give back to these kids together," said Koenen. "It means a lot."
The three players kicked off the morning at a Walmart Supercenter in St. Petersburg, where they scoured the aisles and filled shopping carts with toys for kids of all ages. After over an hour of shopping, the trio loaded more than $5,000-worth of toys into two large SUVs and set their sights on their next target: All Children's Hospital.
Upon arrival, the players unloaded nearly two dozen boxes of toys designated for the hospital's All Kids Wonderland, a program that allows families to select free gifts for their children who are admitted to the hospital as December 25 approaches. Launched in 2012 by the hospital's Child Life Department, the All Kid's Wonderland, which will take place this year on December 22–23, helps ensure that local hospitalized children still have the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with their families.
"This is the time of year where the community really rallies," said Roy Adams, public information officer for All Children's Hospital. "They realize these patients are in the hospital over the holidays and they want them to have an as normal holiday as possible. Its groups like the Buccaneers that make that happen."
After delivering the toys, DePaola, Koenen and Murray spent more than an hour and a half greeting patients throughout the hospital, visiting individual rooms and delivering a Buccaneers stocking for children to display.
"Seeing these kids fighting every single day and maybe not being home for Christmas or for the holidays, it really just puts things into perspective," said Murray. "We're so fortunate to be able to come in and spend some time with them. If we can put a smile on their face, that's what we're happiest about."
Over the holiday season, All Children's Hospital will care for hundreds of patients from throughout Central Florida. As families cope with the challenges of a young loved one being hospitalized as Christmas approaches, they'll have some added help searching for the right gift from Santa Claus to boost their spirits.
"It doesn't even matter if we know them or we're strangers," added Murray. "As long as we can help them and their families, that's what we care about."