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Seminoles, Santa deliver holiday cheer to hospital

President Mitchell Cypress and Santa Claus deliver a toy to a baby in the intensive care unit Dec. 8 at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. President Cypress hosted a three-day toy drive prior to the delivery.
President Mitchell Cypress and Santa Claus deliver a toy to a baby in the intensive care unit Dec. 8 at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood. President Cypress hosted a three-day toy drive prior to the delivery.

HOLLYWOOD — President Mitchell Cypress, with help from Santa Claus, brought much-needed Christmas cheer to young patients Dec. 8 at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.

After collecting more than 900 toys during a three-day toy drive, President Cypress distributed gifts to children who might not be home for the holidays.

“What most children want is to be normal and not be in the hospital,” said Don Eachus, director of development at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation. “It’s a semblance of normalcy when people bring presents. It brings them a smile and takes their minds off what they are going through for a little bit.”

The toys were donated Dec. 3-5 by generous passersby at the corner of Stirling Road and U.S. 441 in Hollywood.

Local radio stations, nighttime klieg lights and Santa Claus helped draw attention to the collection event, where inside a cheerfully decorated tent, unwrapped gifts filled boxes labeled by gender and age.

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood also showed generosity by donating an additional 1,200 toys for sharing with other children.

Several days later, a Seminole Tribe Fire Rescue fire truck substituted as Santa’s sleigh to transport jolly St. Nick and his firefighter elves to the Hollywood hospital. President Cypress followed with vehicles filled with toys.

“I always like to see the smiles on their faces,” President Cypress said. “This is the biggest joy I get from working all year long.”

President Cypress hosted his first toy drive and drop off in 2007 when he was Chairman and carried on the tradition through his term. He decided to relaunch the event this year as President, he said.

Inspiration for the event comes from his childhood Christmas memories. He said he remembers how much he looked forward to the fruit that missionaries brought to the church at Christmas: “I thought that was something,” he said.

President Cypress credits the community for the success of the Tribe’s casinos, so he aims to help as many needy children as possible during the holidays.

President Cypress hopes to make the toy drive an annual tradition.

Smiles and laughter filled the hospital halls as President Cypress and Santa visited patients and surprised them with presents; visiting siblings also received a toy from Santa. Even a child celebrating Chanukah enjoyed the visit as Santa crowed, “Ho, ho, ho, Happy Chanukah.” A trip to the intensive care unit was more hushed, but it didn’t stop the entourage from doling out Christmas tidings.

“Today was a special day; we lifted their spirits,” President Cypress said. “I wish Santa would have come in my younger days but he didn’t. Doing this helps make up for that.”

The Seminoles and Santa handed out about 60 toys; Big Mama’s Team of Life organization dispersed the remaining gifts at events in Florida City, Central Broward Regional Park and Santa’s Enchanted Forest.

“Christmas is a good time of year to celebrate not only the holiday but the day Christ was born,” President Cypress said. “I’d like everyone in the Tribe to take a moment and think about that. Don’t leave Christ out.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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