By Mariel S. Clark
MANHATTAN — Santa Claus paid an early visit to some hospitalized children as part of a New York Fire Department toy donation on Friday.
About 30 FDNY firefighters, along with Santa and Harry Hanukkah, handed out presents to the children at Beth Israel Medical Center and NYU Medical's Hassenfeld Children's Center.
"I like seeing the kids light up when they see the guys fill the room," said FDNY Lt. Kevin McCutchan, the man behind the toy drive.
For the last nine years, McCutchan, along with FDNY "elves" collected money and toys for the children, all of who have life-threatening illnesses including brain tumors, leukemia, respiratory diseases and the flu.
"Some kids didn't want to get discharged today because they heard the firefighters were going to come," said Honey Shields, Director of Child Life at Beth Israel. "They didn't want to leave."
The children ranged in age, some were teenagers, others barely old enough to walk. But each received a pile of gifts all carefully selected and wrapped by the firefighters.
The wrapping didn't last long as the children ripped into the presents with unabashed glee. It was a typical holiday moment for children whose holidays are anything but typical.
Opening presents and seeing Santa "feels normal," Shields said. "[The children] recognize that they will get out of here, that it's normal out there."
McCutchan got the idea for the toy drive and donation in 2000 visiting his brother-in-law at Beth Israel. McCutchan saw the children's floor and was concerned the kids didn't get a visit from Santa.
So he stepped into the role along with firefighters at the Bronx's Engine 73 Ladder 42 and Engine 94 Ladder 48.
"When it comes to the spirit of giving, these guys are the best," said Shields. "They bring joy to everybody."