FOREST HILLS, NY – Sharon Fernandez has been making the Christmas morning rounds at Forest Hills Hospital for the past three decades.
Clad in a bright red corduroy suit, white wig and beard and a backpack for extra padding, the hospital’s human resources specialist is barely recognizable in her Kris Kringle garb.
“I’m quite the Santa,” said Ms. Fernandez, a mother of three grown children and one grandchild.
Her annual gig started in the mid-1980s when she and a group of fellow employees wanted to sing Christmas carols, but nobody wanted to wear the red suit. Ms. Fernandez stepped up to the Santa plate, and the rest is history.
While she doesn’t have a sleigh-driving license, or any kind of license for that matter, she does have a co-worker, Ruth Doucet, senior secretary in the Case Management Department, who gives her a lift to the hospital every December 25th.
Together, they round up teen hospital volunteers from Forest Hills High School to help spread the holiday cheer.
“We go around to all the floors and we sing to the patients,” said Ms. Fernandez. “We try to give them a little trinket or something.”
She’s especially popular in the hospital’s Labor and Delivery unit, where new moms are eager for her to pose for baby’s first Santa photos.
Despite Ms. Fernandez’s many years of playing Father Christmas, she still gets a lump in her throat when she sees how her visit lifts a patient’s spirits.
“It’s such a little thing,” said Ms. Fernandez. “I’m only giving an hour or two of my time, but you cannot imagine the impact it has on the patients and employees.”