For the past four years, Elton Dean has scoured store aisles for toys before the holiday season arrives. Dean isn’t on the hunt for presents for his children, nieces or nephews. Instead he’s shopping for pediatric patients at Mass General for Children and other area hospitals. Dean, a retired Staff Sergeant from the Massachusetts Army National Guard, is the elf in charge of the Sergeant Santa program which aims to spread encouragement, cheer and spirit to those in need during the holiday season.
Dean – along with military representatives from the Massachusetts Army National Guard and United States Navy – delivered more than 300 puzzles, action figures and teddy bears this December with funds donated by fellow servicemen to pediatric patients on Ellison 17 and 18 inpatient units. Since its inception in 2013, Sergeant Santa has handed out more than 1,000 gifts to MGH patients.
“As soldiers, we’ve been taught to never quit and face new challenges head on. But, that mantra doesn’t just apply to those in the military,” says Dean. “This comes from a person’s spirit, and we see that strength in the MGH patients. You don't have to be a soldier to be a warrior.”
And that message has resonated with others. Last year at a charity dinner, Dean presented Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker with a challenge coin – a small medallion that traditionally recognizes excellence – and invited him to participate in Sergeant Santa’s annual toy delivery. Baker jumped at the opportunity to attend the Dec. 20th visit, choosing toys for each patient and posing for photos on Ellison 17.
“Spending time with the courageous and resilient kids at Mass General for Children over the holidays was a tremendous honor,” said Baker. “It was a privilege to support them alongside the selfless members of our armed forces – men and women who have already sacrificed a great deal for our country and recognize courage and strength when they see it.”