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‘Snow Pile’ makes holidays a little brighter

By Staff | Dec 24, 2010

The Christmas spirit poured through the halls of the second floor of HealthPark Wednesday night as parents had the opportunity to shop through multiple tables stacked high with presents donated by the community.
“I still feel like I am in a dream,” Marianne Pompilus said after she left the room with huge black bags full of wrapped presents for her four children. She has been in the hospital with her 11-month-old since Saturday.
The glow and smile still illuminated Pompilus’ face an hour later after leaving the room due to her still trying not to scream from being overjoyed that her children will have presents on Christmas day.
“These people are angels,” she said. “I really appreciate what they do. They are a blessing from God.”
It was, indeed, a dream come true for Pompilus because she is currently unemployed and all she could afford were a few presents from the dollar store for her 6, 5, 3 and 11 month old children. Pompilus said she could not be any happier because now the children will have a Christmas that she would not have otherwise been able to provide for them.
“They are going to be happy,” she said, adding that now they will have a nice Christmas.
Scott Tallman, with the Scott Tallman Foundation, was among the many who donated items for the gift-laden “Snow Pile” who also volunteered his time during the event. Pompilus said he gave her a $100 gift card, which only increased her level of excitement because now she could buy a Christmas tree for her kids.
“I’m definitely going to get a Christmas tree,” she said, adding that it did not matter if it was big or small.
Twenty-nine other families also shared the excitement of being provided with the opportunity of doing their Christmas shopping at the hospital Wednesday night.
“It restores your spirit in Christmas,” childlife specialist Stacie Margaritis said with tears in her eyes after all of the families made their way through collecting presents for their children.
Kelley Cowan, also a childlife specialist, said it has been a dream of hers and Margaritis’ to help out the families who have to spend Christmas in the hospital.
The idea of the Operation Snow Pile came from Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and Michigan Children’s Hospital, which kicked the program off 10 years ago. She said she contacted them to see how they conducted their snow pile to get ideas for their own.
The effort made it possible to give parents a stress free, anxiety free shopping experience without leaving their children or the hospital, she said.
A total of 25 volunteers helped Cowan and Margaritis throughout the day on Wednesday to unload the toys into a room, set them up, along with wrapping them for the families.
Two to three families walked through the room filled with toys at a time, so they did not feel overwhelmed while searching for the perfect presents for their children.
The room contained more than 2,000 items that included such presents like Wii games, board games, Razor scooters, dolls, cars and many other presents that were for infants to 21-year-olds. Those gifts were provided by the Estero Country Club, Cat Country, Lexington Middle School, Gateway Charter School, Florida Gulf Coast University, Hilton Garden Inn, Division 19 Key Clubs of Lee County and Andrew Toybox, among numerous other “angels” who donated gifts to make the first Snow Pile a huge success.
“We can’t thank the community enough for coming through,” Margaritis said. “That’s way cool.”
She said the families were paired up with a volunteer to help them scope out three to four presents for each of their children. Volunteers then wrapped all of the presents, so they would be ready for Christmas.
Hand-made stockings were also provided for the parents, along with hot chocolate and the opportunity to decorate cookies.
They had many gifts left over, which will be disbursed to other families to brighten more children’s Christmas.
“Everything will be used,” Margaritis said, adding that all of their individual units will receive presents also.
Fifteen other families and their children, who are still waiting to be transferred from the Emergency Room, also will be provided with presents