For 26 consecutive years, Loretto Hospital’s annual Visit with Santa giveaway has served West Side families with Christmas gifts. The most recent gift giveaway took place at the Columbus Park Refectory on Saturday, Dec. 10.  

This year, families in attendance received at least one toy per child (gifts were given to children ages 3 to 12), a picture with Santa Claus and hot cocoa. In an effort to keep families from waiting to get inside the Refectory, Loretto Hospital used donated CTA buses for people to wait in while they filled out their registration information before going inside.

Kenneth McGee, chief financial officer at Loretto Hospital, said the hospital typically serves over 2,600 children each year. He said the hospital invited the community to donate gifts weeks leading up to the event before dedicating two to three days to wrapping the presents.

“[This] just shows them that we’re doing something positive and we care about them in a city where there’s so much going on that they’re loved,” said McGee.

State Rep. Camille Lilly (78th), who is also vice president of external affairs at Loretto Hospital, has led the coordination of the event for 24 years. She said new to this year’s event was the creation of a community focus group, which took place on Oct. 20. During the focus group, the greater West Side community worked on the details of planning this year’s event.

“A lot of the changes we have this year are because of that focus group and the community coming in with recommendations on how to do things better,” said Lilly.

Lilly said one of the primary changes was changing the event’s entrance from the east doorway to the south pavilion as a means to keep visitors warm. She said the reactions of the children were memorable, especially with three Santas of different ethnicities serving families. Gifts were donated, in part, from event sponsors and door decorations were created by Loretto Hospital patients.

“We want to show community and we want the community to be proud of who they are and where they live,” said Lily. “We want people to understand they don’t have to go to the mall to have Santa and visit with Santa they can do it in their own community at the beautiful Columbus Park Refectory.”

Tanesha Daniels, chief experience officer at Loretto Hospital, said she and her colleagues decided to attend the event in person because they wanted to show the community their lives of dedication.

First-time event attendee Annie Williams, who learned of the event through local advertising, called the event “great.” She brought along with her grandson, Rodney Flecks, 4, and granddaughter, Gamia Dawson, 7.

“We need this in this neighborhood and any neighborhood,” said Williams. “The kids can have something to do and stay out of trouble. This is good; it’s a time to give. The gifts were great.”