Santa Bill makes annual toy donation to OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois

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PEORIA, Ill (WMBD) — Riding on top of a firetruck, Bill “Santa Bill” Turney made a grand entrance Thursday morning at the OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois dressed up in his traditional red Santa suit for the 24th year of the community tradition.

Turney could not visit the children in-person Thursday morning as he normally would due to COVID-19. Therefore, he made sure the hospital patients and their families could see him arrive from their windows.

“I wouldn’t change the way that we do Christmas in my family and with all my friends for anything in this world,” Turney said.

OSF Healthcare’s Special Visitor Coordinator Demetra Gaines said she is grateful to the Peoria Police and Fire Department for escorting Turney and his toy donations to the hospital. She said she remembered when he first wanted to visit sick children at the hospital around Christmas time.

“I have been working here for 31 years and I met Santa Bill about 24 years ago,” Gaines said. “So Bill came just with a box of cards, now he comes with a U-Haul full of toys.”

Marshall Mueller, Santa Bill’s “sleigh rider,” typically drives the U-Haul truck full of donations. He has been working with Santa Bill for about two decades.

“His drive and passion are still the same it is today than it was when he started,” Mueller said. “Maybe even more so now.”

Santa Bill and his “helpers” collected donations all year for Thursday morning’s distribution.

“The guy that you see in the suit, he’s pretty much the same guy that you get every day,” Turney said.

They even created an Amazon wish list for people to donate virtually. Turney said he worried they would not fill up the truck with toys in 2020, but was proud to see they have enough donations to fill the truck.

Turney said this year is dedicated to his late son Michael, who died shortly after his first birthday.

He hopes to continue collecting toy donations each year to give to the hospital every holiday season. Gaines said the donations are distributed throughout the year to over 8,000 hospital patients and families/siblings. The gifts are used for birthdays, difficult procedures, and, of course, holidays.

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