ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ivan Sandoval Weaver turned a hallway corner in Carrie Tingley Hospital on Wednesday afternoon and let out a shriek upon seeing Santa Claus.
The 7-year-old quickened his pace and strolled into the open arms of Santa, who bent down to greet him.
“I know you’ve been a good boy and you know what that means,” the jolly rotund fellow asked rhetorically.
“I get a toy,” said Ivan.
With that, Santa took Ivan’s hand and led him into a room filled with new toys grouped together according to a child’s age. Allowed to select any toy from the appropriate group, Ivan first chose a Lego toy but then put it back in favor of a slick model hot rod car with battery-operated moving parts.
“Thank you, Santa,” he said, breaking into a version of “Jingle Bells,” with Santa joining in for a verse or two.
For Ivan, who has a number of orthopedic problems, the visit with Santa is a welcome relief from his regular and lengthy physical therapy appointments.
The toys covering every square inch of table and shelf space in the hospital’s Child Life Room all were donated.
Each year since 2009, the Journal has coordinated the Toys for Tingley Toy Drive, which asks readers to donate unwrapped toys, games, puzzles or gift cards.
The drive is aimed at brightening the holiday season for children facing medical challenges by allowing them to select a gift when they visit the hospital. Many of the children’s families go through tough times when medical bills pile up and there is little money for toys.
And each year readers respond.
“The Journal is fortunate to have very generous readers. They never fail to come through when we ask for help. This is proven time and time again,” says Tanya Lenti, marketing director for the Albuquerque Publishing Co. and the Albuquerque Journal.
“The Albuquerque Journal is pleased to coordinate the Toys for Tingley Toy Drive. It’s good to know that the donations we collect will go directly to the children and teens at the Carrie Tingley Hospital in time for Christmas.”
The drive is continuing until Christmas and toys remaining after the holidays will be distributed to patients at the outpatient hospital throughout the year, as well as to patients at the Carrie Tingley inpatient unit at the University of New Mexico Hospital.
“It’s very nice that they are able to do this for the children,” said Jomara Ragland, whose daughter, Nabella Maldonado, 5, selected a Barbie doll after attending a spina bifida clinic.
“It’s especially nice considering what these children go through. Some of them are here all day for clinics and appointments. It’s a nice little treat in the middle of the day and a great time of year. They get excited to see Santa.”
Senyda Muniz, 2, wasn’t quite sure what to make of ol’ Saint Nick. She had just come from a spina bifida clinic and was in the company of her sister, Yesenia Muniz, 8 months, and her mom, Ruby Montes.
“Senyda was afraid to shake Santa’s hand – she didn’t even want to touch him,” joked her mom. “She doesn’t get the whole Santa Claus thing just yet, but she does like getting toys” and happily chose a Cookie Monster toy.
Santa Claus said he understands that some children take a while to warm up to a large, loud man with a long white beard and a fire engine-red suit.
Still, he said, being Santa at Carrie Tingley is particularly rewarding because it’s an opportunity to get kids to associate the hospital setting with something other than just doctors and treatments.
Santa visited a local church as well. There, he said, kids ask for things “that they may never get,” he said. “I tell them, ‘I’ll have to ask the reindeers,’ or ‘I’ll have to see how much room is left on Santa’s sleigh’ or I look toward the parents to see if they’re shaking their heads yes or no.”
But at Santa’s Workshop at Carrie Tingley, “this room is Santa’s sleigh, so I can tell kids to choose a toy and they get exactly what they want.”