Among the many things that children look forward to during the holiday season is discovering whether Santa has rewarded their “nice behavior” with a favorite toy (or two!) under the Christmas tree.
But what happens when a child is hospitalized during the holidays and unable to be home on Christmas morning to open presents? In Fairfax County, those children get an early visit from Santa himself.
Santa’s Ride Origin Story
For 31 years, Santa has been swapping his sled and reindeer for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and police escort in early Dec. to collect toys for children at local hospitals. He and his merry crew will ride into town on Dec. 11-12 to deliver gifts and yuletide spirit at INOVA Children’s Hospital and the Georgetown Hospital Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
This annual tradition traces its origins to 1987 when Fairfax County Police Department motor officers Buddy Sekely and John Burdette were invited by the Montgomery County Police Department’s motor squad to help deliver Christmas gifts to D.C. Children’s Hospital, now Children’s National Hospital.
Sekely and Burdette were so inspired by the positive impact the event had on the children and their parents that they wasted no time starting their own ride the following year.
Officer Sekely, now retired, played Santa until 1993. He remembers the challenges he faced recruiting elves for Fairfax County’s inaugural Santa’s Ride in 1988.
“I had a little resistance from some of the guys in the department at first since a lot of them were not too keen on the idea of wearing an elf costume, but it only took one time participating and everyone was hooked,” he says.
“Shortly after that, I got the chief on board, and the whole thing took off.” Mrs. Claus, Rudolph and Frosty were soon added to the lineup, and eventually the ride got so big that a second day was added to visit more hospitals.
Local Donations Needed
Needless to say, the event is no small undertaking, and the Fairfax County Police Department’s motor squad scrambles like Santa’s elves on Christmas Eve to pick up donations of unwrapped toys from local police stations, various local businesses and participating Fairfax county schools.
More than 100 boxes of toys are typically collected, and the gifts — including games, books and even bikes — are sorted in a warehouse by age and gender to make it easier for distribution at the hospitals. Nurses will help Santa figure out what kinds of toys each child prefers.
Coordinating this year’s event is Fairfax County police Pfc. Charles Reinhard. “Seeing the joy on these kids’ faces is so gratifying, and the parents are so grateful as well. The fact that we help take these kids’ minds off being sick and in the hospital, if only for a brief moment, makes it all worth it,” Reinhard says.
Santa will also leave some toys to be delivered on Christmas morning and other times throughout the year. Any remaining gifts will be given to various local charities, including the INOVA Life with Cancer Center.
If you’d like to donate to this special cause, you can drop off a new and unwrapped toy, game, book or other gift to any Fairfax County Police Station, Fairfax County Public Safety Headquarters, Fairfax County Print Shop at the Government Center, Fairfax City Police Department, Vienna Police Department or the lobbies of the Pennino and Herrity Office Buildings.
All donations should be made before 9 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 9.
BY: MELANIE SWITZER REILLY