Santa usually travels by sleigh and reindeer, but last Thursday, he made an exception.
Saint Nick took a Bell 429 C-GCQR helicopter for his annual visit to the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health in Saanich. Since 2001, the Coast Guard has arranged for Santa to visit the integrated child care programs in a helicopter, giving out teddy bears to about 60 children, many of whom have special needs.
The yearly drop-in by Santa was started 15 years ago by Darcene Thirkell, superintendent of operational business with the Coast Guard, when her two children attended the child care program at the G.R. Pearkes Building.
“It occurred to me that parents of children with special needs may find it difficult to take their children to see Santa in a busy mall,” said Thirkell of the inspiration behind the visit.
While her children have grown up, Thirkell and the Coast Guard have continued the tradition of flying in Santa via helicopter.
Jessica Woollard, communications officer with the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island, said the drop-in gives the children an opportunity to meet Santa that they otherwise might not have.
“Not all the children in the programs have special needs, but for those who do, it’s a lovely way for them to see Santa in a familiar environment,” she said.
“A lot of the children that attend the child care programs are siblings or they’ve heard about this incredible thing that the Coast Guard does by bringing in Santa by helicopter. There’s a lot of excitement – it’s such a unique way to bring Santa to children.”
The event featured snacks and music, with the kids singing Christmas songs as they waited for Santa to come to their classrooms.
Woollard noted that while the kids were delighted to see Father Christmas, the parents’ faces light up too when they see the joy in their children’s eyes.
“It was especially lovely for the adults, watching how happy these children were,” she said. “This is a time of year when people turn their minds towards others, and it’s lovely that the Coast Guard has continued this tradition of thinking of kids at Christmas.”