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Area families collect toys for hospital

Most of Lincoln County’s little ones spent last Christmas Evewarm and safe at home, counting down the hours until Santa’sarrival.

Five-year-old Felder Sartin’s run-up to Christmas was spent in ahospital room at Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson,recuperating from another round of chemotherapy treatments for hisleukemia.

But Christmas was still merry.

“The chief doctor at Batson dressed up as Santa and brought toysaround to all the kids from people who had gotten together anddonated them as a project,” said Jessica Sartin, Felder’s mother.”The people at the hospital know the kids because they spend somuch time with them, and they knew what Felder liked and his toyswere fitted to him. What we thought was going to be a sad ChristmasEve, being in the hospital, turned out to be good.”

Turning the hospital staff into Santa’s helpers is atime-honored tradition at Batson that depends on the generosity ofothers statewide. This year, Sartin and other local families whohave leaned on Blair E. Batson are letting the hospital lean onthem by spearheading a local effort to collect toys for thehospital’s Santa Bags program.

“We want to try to give back to the hospital a little bit of thehappiness they gave to us last year,” Sartin said.

Sartin and the local team are seeking new, unwrapped toys forchildren and teenagers of both sexes for donation to Batson. Cashdonations are also accepted, and will be used to purchase toys forthe young patients there. Boxes for donation have been placed atRepetitions, Stan King Chevrolet and The Party Place.

The deadline for donating the toys is Saturday, Dec. 12. Time isshort, and the children at Blair E. Batson are depending on thenext week’s efforts to see Santa on Christmas Eve.

“We most definitely depend on the communities to help us,” saidJennifer Lott, Child Life Coordinator at Batson. “If it weren’t forthe communities, we wouldn’t have anything to give the kids. It’soverwhelming to see the communities coming together for thekids.”

Batson’s Santa Bags drive is not just a far-off cause. Thehospital treated 1,400 children from Lincoln County in 2008, andthe area has a history of turning the grindstone for theinstitution. The county has raised thousands of dollars for theconstruction of a new emergency room entrance at the hospital inthe last two years alone through cooperation with the annualMississippi Gran Prix bike race.

The Santa Bags program also makes a big difference in littlelives.

“The kids are thrilled. Sometimes they’re sad because they don’tthink Santa Claus will be able to find them in the hospital,” Lottsaid. “It’s a shock sometimes when you have families not expectingto be here on Christmas. Then, Santa walks through the door.”

Lott said the chief supporters of Santa Bags are parents likeSartin, who “stir it up” in their communities after their childrenreceived gifts from the program in the past. Then, the parents ofcurrent children take up the flag next year, and so on.

“It’s kind of a pay it forward thing,” she said.

It’s the same with Michelle Barber, mother of the late EmilyBarber, who passed away in June at the age of 4 after the medicalstaff at Batson battled her neuroblastoma for more than one year.Though Emily is gone, her mother’s respect for the hospitalremains.

“(Blair E. Batson) means the world to me, and I will supportthem as much as I can,” Barber said. “Everybody up there held aspecial place in our heart, all the way down to the people whocleaned our room.”

East Lincoln’s Sarah Newman also owes much to Batson for theirtreatment of her son, 2-year-old Dayne Newman, who receivedtreatment for a host of complications stemming from his prematurebirth.

“There’s just so many kids around here who have been treatedthere, and this is just a way the community can give back to Batsonfor everything they do for us,” she said. “Just imagine if it wasyour child up there spending Christmas, ’cause it very well mightbe.”