25 years of hope: Santa Bill delivers toys to OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – A Peoria Jolly Saint Nick is providing children in the hospital with hope ahead of Christmas.

Wednesday, for the 25th year, Santa Bill delivered a truckload worth of toys to children who can’t be home for the holiday.

For families and children at OSF’s Children’s Hospital of Illinois, being home for Christmas isn’t the easiest task.

“It’s hard being stuck here in the hospital. As a parent you have to worry about your sick child, you have to worry about your other kids having things,” said Demetra Gaines, special visitor coordinator for OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

Twenty-five years ago, Bill Turney, popularly known as Santa Bill, handed out his first gifts at the Peoria hospital.

“I just walked in here one day, didn’t tell anybody I was coming, and started handing out football cards and then ended up with a little bitty red wagon,” Turney said.

What started as giving out football cards and a red wagon has turned into a U-Haul filled with toys.

Wednesday, with the help of community donations during the past year, Santa Bill and Santa’s helpers delivered more than $30,000 worth of gifts to the Children’s Hospital. It was the biggest year for the event yet.

“I wanted to hit $25,000 but we’ve surpassed that, and these kids will have Christmas every day for the next year. Every day,” Turney said.

For staff at OSF, Santa Bill’s appearance each year brings Christmas joy, which means even more during the pandemic.

“It’s morale for even the staff to see somebody walking through the halls, to bring the spirit of Christmas to the hospital,” Gaines said.

Turney said delivering gifts is all about bringing a smile and spreading hope to children who need it.

“These kids are in here every day, and they’re sick, and so if I can make them smile just a little bit, if I make one kid smile from something we brought in here, then I did what I had to do,” Turney said.

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