As the holidays approach, many look forward to exchanging gifts with close friends and family. It’s a time of year to acknowledge those who we may have taken for granted at times. On Tuesday, Dec.14, the New York Islanders spent their afternoons visiting local children’s hospitals to deliver toys and holiday cheer. For the patients, it’s a day of joy in an otherwise bleak season. For the Islanders, it’s a humble reminder that wins and losses are not their sole purpose.
“It’s an important time of year,” said Islanders center Doug Weight, who visited Nassau University Medical Center. “It’s the best time of year, and I think you come to the realization of how fortunate you are.”
The players split up into eight small groups and visited seven local children’s hospitals and one school to spread the spirit of the season to the young people who need it most. Included in the visits were: the Stephen and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital in Bayside, North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, and the Henry Viscardi School, serving children with severe physical and medical disabilities, in Albertson. This event was sponsored by EmblemHealth.
“They’re so resilient and have such a glow in their eye,” said Weight. “The things that they go through being in that room everyday, it’s just tough. So if we can interrupt that and deliver some gifts and get some smiles, that’s the least we can do.”
“The fact that they took time out of their day to come visit them is exciting,” said Linda Walsh, Director of Therapeutic Recreation at Nassau University Medical Center. “The kids get wound up and get very excited. We have a girl that even had a seizure because she got so excited when she heard the Islanders were coming.”
At St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital, patients flooded the Children’s Activity Center as holiday music played over the speakers. Islanders forwards Trevor Gillies
, PA Parenteau
, and Michael Grabner
handed out gifts, signed autographs, and took pictures with patients for over an hour.
“I’ve got to be grateful for the life I have,” said Grabner. “Obviously, these kids are not as fortunate, so it’s kind of nice to brighten up their day and make them smile.”
After distributing most of the gifts, the players were escorted to each level of the hospital, visiting the patients not physically capable of joining their peers downstairs. Everywhere they went, the Islanders were greeted with admiring stares, smiles, and warm welcomes.
“It’s cool for them to meet someone famous and know that there’s somebody out there who cares about them,” said Holly Potoeski, Supervisor of the Recreation Department at St. Mary’s. “(The players) always go see all of the children, they don’t leave anybody out. They’re always a pleasure to work with.”
The hospitals were decorated with festive holiday lights, Christmas trees, and beaming children; sparking fond memories for the Islanders captain.
“You think back to your own childhood, (and) you see all these kids at Christmas time and you know what it means,” said Weight. “These kids are excited and it’s great that we shopped for all of this. You can’t reiterate how important it is at this time of year.”
Fans will also have an opportunity to do their part this Saturday, Dec. 18 when the Islanders will host a toy drive benefitting the John Thiessen Children’s Foundation as the team takes on the Phoenix Coyotes at the Nassau Coliseum. Fans can bring three new, unwrapped gifts to the coliseum and receive a ticket voucher for the Jan. 11 game against the Vancouver Canucks, while helping make the holidays more joyous for patients in local children’s hospitals.
After each room had been visited and all toys were distributed, the patients and nurses returned to their daily routines. The players, weary from a longer than usual return trip from Nashville a night earlier, made their way back to the Coliseum for a workout. The hustle from earlier in the afternoon had been restored to normal. But the memories of the day’s events will remain with all involved.
“This changes their whole day,” said Walsh. “You see them running around and you think, ‘Are you sure they’re sick?’ The way they run around with the toys the Islanders gave them, and with their Islanders shirts on, it’s great.”