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All Children's Hospital's 2-day event helps boost morale of patients during the holidays

For the past 10 years, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg has staged All Kids' Wonderland, a two-day December event intended to brighten the holiday season for hospitalized children and their families.

The premise is that families with a sick child are probably not going to have the focus or energy to spend much time shopping for holiday gifts, so All Kids' Wonderland does it for them. Parents and guardians visit the wonderland — basically a decorated conference room — and are met with tables covered with hundreds of donated gifts that they can choose for free and later give to their children, including their siblings who are not sick.

“We try to create a positive feeling and help families get the resources they need to celebrate whatever winter holiday they celebrate,” says Heather Bailey, the hospital’s child life program manager.

Bailey’s department, which is tasked with boosting the morale of patients and families every day, stages many holiday activities, from Halloween parties to Fourth of July picnics, but the December event is the hospital’s largest, with a typical budget of more than $40,000 and the involvement of numerous sponsors and businesses — and help from 200 volunteers. Most years, the event benefits about 225 families.

“We have families that become very emotional, and usually we have five to six families that become beyond emotional,” Bailey says. “It can be overwhelming, not just seeing the resources, the decorations, not just seeing the toys, but seeing the event itself. It’s about the compassion that’s shown through this event.”

Even hospital staffers who deal with emotional situations as part of their job can get overwhelmed.

“Every year, I look back, and it's a ton of work,” Bailey says. “We are exhausted when we come to the end of this, but we’re floating on happiness and pride, and we have an overwhelming feeling that we’ve pulled off another event that has impacted so many people.”