If Santa Claus needed to recruit a head elf, Dee Keeton would like be on top of his list.
In 2000, Keeton and her husband Dr. Bill Keeton, a longtime physician at Dekalb Medical Center, began setting aside funds to help employees in need during the holidays. When word started getting out about the Keeton’s charitable mission, others wanted to help and the group began growing.
They became known as the Secret Elves. Nurses and folks from different departments joined forces with the Keetons. Then others outside of the Dekalb Medical workforce learned about the Elves and started lending a holiday hand.
“For 2016 I had more than 40 people donate,” Keeton said. “And it’s everywhere from $5 to several hundred.”
Last Christmas, after raising $3,000, Keeton and her Secret Elves helped provide gifts for 24 children. This included members of the Tree House Gang, a support group for children who have lost a family member to cancer or have someone in their family who is currently fighting the disease.
Not only does Keeton work to raise the money, but she makes a list and checks it twice. Keeton interviews the parents of each of the children to find out what the child wants for Christmas, if they have any specific needs, and uncovers details including the child’s favorite color and more.
“This year when I called one of the moms, she just started sobbing,” Keeton recalled. “She said, ‘This year has been such a hard year for us that my children would have not had a Christmas if it wasn’t for the Secret Elves.’”
According to Keeton, the stories are many. Once when a Dekalb Medical Center employee in environmental services lost their home and its contents in a fire just before Christmas, Keeton and company went to work. The Secret Elves were able to replace the gifts that employee’s children lost in the fire, so they had presents to open on Christmas morning.
“It’s truly about giving back and making a difference in someone’s life,” Keeton said. “In my mind, the ability to make a difference in someone’s life is totally worth it. That’s the best gift you can give someone.”
For more on celebrating nurses, visit www.ajc.com/ajcjobs/celebrating-nurses/.