MTA workers help spread holiday cheer for kids on Staten Island
The MTA and a local charity teamed up to make sure kids stuck in a hospital bed around Christmas got a boost in holiday spirit — and a visit from Santa Claus — during a gift-giving tradition that’s spanned three decades.
An MTA bus was transformed into Santa’s mobile workshop, rolling up to two hospitals in Staten Island on Friday, delivering gifts to sick kids in need of holiday cheer. MTA workers had a major role in lifting the children’s spirits, with an assist from the non-profit Kids Against Cancer, as they handed out early Christmas gifts at Staten Island University Hospital and Richmond University Medical Center.
MTA workers from four bus depots bought about $20,000 in gifts this year with the help of two local schools, while crews spent weeks before the big day decorating the bus with Christmas lights and ornaments.
One little girl had a smile from ear-to-ear when Santa, who is an MTA bus driver dressed in red with a big white beard, made an appearance at Staten Island University Hospital Friday. Lanika Khan, only 6-years-old, couldn’t hold back her excitement as Santa told her and handed out gifts.
Her father told The Post the moment was particularly special because his daughter – in the hospital for five days – was distraught when she missed breakfast at school with her classmates and a trip to see Santa at the mall due to her hospital stay.
“She said, ‘oh Santa came to see me,’” Rahat Khan, 32, said. “She was so happy. It was a big surprise for her from Santa.
“This moment boosted her spirits because Santa made her smile. She has been upset the last five days. Now she has a smile on her face.”
“I am feeling good, I am happy,” little Lanika said brightly after spelling her name.
One 14-year-old girl opened her mouth and eyes wide when she saw Santa and Mrs. Claus.
She took a picture with them and got on the phone to Facetime her mom to tell her about the special visit.
“Mommy, Santa came? Look what I got!” she exclaimed.
MTA worker Bill Lewis, the bus driver who adeptly played the role of Kris Kringle, said he planned to be the big man in the red hat long as he can. He spent the day directing Santa’s Express and handing out presents while telling holiday tales.
A child’s joy is what the holiday season is all about, he declared.
“It warms my heart to see the children smile,” he said, touching his left chest. “It makes you feel joy….if you can bring a smile to a child’s face, it’s automatic joy. You can definitely see it in their faces and their smiles.”
Mrs. Klaus also came along for the ride, helping Santa hand out gifts.
The MTA worker of 12 years, who did not want to give her name to stay in character, said it can be “heart wrenching” seeing kids in the hospital during the holidays.
“But the reward is great – if we give them just a moment, just a smile, then that’s everything,” she added, her smile returning. “It’s just heartwarming.”
Another MTA worker involved in the effort, Anthony Vultaggio, told The Post he tries to help out every year. The supervisor of the Yukon Depot, — one of the spots where presents are picked up — called it an awesome feeling.
“In spite of the battle they are fighting this will brighten up their day, given what they have to overcome,” the 34-year-old said.
“I hope these aren’t the only gifts they will receive but also a clean bill of health. That’s my wish for them.”
MTA maintenance mechanic Gabriel Metzger, 58, said he planned on pitching in even when he retires early next year. He’s part of the crew that cleans the bus and makes sure it’s ready for the trip.
“This touches me because I am a father… it’s personal for me,” he explained. “As a dad I thank God my children are healthy and I want all children to be healthy.”
Kids Against Cancer board chairman Mark Russo said children spending Christmas in the hospital get “special, unique gifts based on their wish lists or Santa’s list.” The requests can range from pricey gifts such as video game consoles and drones to footballs, soccer balls and coloring books, he noted.
Despite the organization approaching its 30th year, he said the excitement never wanes.
“When I see Santa and Mrs. Claus coming off Santa’s Express, it’s a beautiful moment, you could see everyone’s face lights up,” he said. “I feel like a little kid at Christmas.”
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