Youths continue holiday cheer tradition at Children’s Healthcare

This is a composite image of 15-year-old Jerry Hatcher Jr. (left) and 13-year-old Anna Banner, both of whom — despite COVID-19 — still delivered holiday cheer to hospitalized children. (Courtesy of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta)
This is a composite image of 15-year-old Jerry Hatcher Jr. (left) and 13-year-old Anna Banner, both of whom — despite COVID-19 — still delivered holiday cheer to hospitalized children. (Courtesy of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta)

No one is having a normal holiday season this year, but it’s especially complicated for the small patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Because of COVID-19, fewer visitors are allowed at a time and place when visitors are most needed. But that hasn’t stopped two teens from continuing their annual traditions of bringing holiday cheer to young patients and hospital staff.

Jerry Hatcher Jr., 15, is keeping his Christmas tradition alive for the eighth year.

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In 2013, his younger brother, Javier, was only supposed to be in CHOA’s Scottish Rite facility a few days. Javier left about three weeks later without one of his lungs following complications.

It became expensive for the family to eat three meals a day in the hospital cafeteria, said their mother, Jenny Hatcher.

That year, 7-year-old Jerry asked his father if he could use the money set aside for a new PlayStation 4 for something else: meals for people at the hospital. He fed 100 people by 12:30 p.m. the day before Christmas.

Kim Cheek, right, gives Jerry Hatcher, Jr., a big hug after Jerry bought her breakfast Sunday at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017.
Kim Cheek, right, gives Jerry Hatcher, Jr., a big hug after Jerry bought her breakfast Sunday at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017.

Credit: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

A whole generation of PlayStations later, Jerry has continued spending his allowance and donations to buy cheese grits and bacon for the families and staff at the hospital at Christmas. They lived in Cobb County when Javier was hospitalized and now live in Hoschton.

This year, the plan is to leave $1,200 left over from last year in gift cards at two registers with a flier explaining, “This meal brought to you by Jerry Jr.” For the first time since his annual tradition started, he won’t don his Santa cap and hug the recipients of his holiday cheer.

“With COVID, it’s just something that shouldn’t be as intimate as usual,” Jerry said. “I don’t want to get anyone sick, especially because we’re already at the hospital.”

This is the flier that will greet those who buy breakfast at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta on Christmas morning. Though he can't be there in person because of COVID-19, Jerry Hatcher Jr. is spending $1,200 of his allowance and donations to buy breakfast for families and staff at the hospital. This will be his 8th year spreading holiday cheer. (Courtesy of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta)
This is the flier that will greet those who buy breakfast at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta on Christmas morning. Though he can't be there in person because of COVID-19, Jerry Hatcher Jr. is spending $1,200 of his allowance and donations to buy breakfast for families and staff at the hospital. This will be his 8th year spreading holiday cheer. (Courtesy of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta)

His mother said he was definitely bummed.

“He was disappointed, but at least we can still pay it forward and be there in spirit and at least bless some folks coming through,” she said.

It’s just the latest display of holiday cheer this season.

A masked Anna Banner, 13, and her mother, Susan Banner, dropped off menorahs (with tiny lightbulbs instead of candles), dreidels and chocolate gelt for CHOA patients earlier this month.

The tradition started nine years ago when a child they knew was in the hospital. Susan said the child’s mother noticed there were no Hanukkah decorations up, so the Banners brought some not only for that young patient but also for the hospital lobby.

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This year for Hanukkah, which ended a week ago, they left items with hospital staff to distribute.

The Banners, members of The Temple in Midtown, always leave instructions for how to play dreidel so everyone can have fun and win some chocolate.

Anna Banner, 13, drops off Hanukkah goodies and decorations to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. She has been doing this for other children who celebrate Hanukkah the past nine years. (Courtesy of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta)
Anna Banner, 13, drops off Hanukkah goodies and decorations to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. She has been doing this for other children who celebrate Hanukkah the past nine years. (Courtesy of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta)

“It makes me really happy to make other people happy,” Anna said.

The tradition had extra meaning this year for another reason: Anna was treated by CHOA staff when she injured her elbow in August playing soccer.

“It makes it even more special because the hospital was able to help me,” she said.

The most famous reindeer of all has flown to Atlanta. The puppet hero of the 1964 animated children’s feature, . “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and his boss Santa have piloted their sleigh to Midtown’s Center for Puppetry Arts. An anonymous donor bought them for $368,000 at auction Nov. 13 and gave them to the center on semi-permanent loan. The Midtown puppetry center is a logical home for Rudolph and Santa. In 2010 the center debuted a puppet show based on the Rankin/Smith film. Atlanta’s puppet builders viewed the film frame-by-frame to recreate scrupulously accurate puppet versions of the figures. The center’s yearly performance of “Rudolph” is always its most popular show. Board member Cheryl Henson, daughter of the late Jim Henson, said the figures have come to the right place . The way that the center has kept the spirit of the (show) and the look of the puppets, it’s delightful to have both the originals and also the live theater puppets there , Cheryl Henson, president of the Jim Henson Foundation

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