SALT LAKE CITY — About 50 patients from children’s hospitals in Salt Lake City boarded a plane Saturday to the North Pole, where they met Santa and received gifts from their wish lists.
“It was really good. I loved it,” Payson Inkley, 9, a patient at Primary Children’s Hospital, said of the plane ride. It may not have been his first — but this time, he had the chance to entertain his fellow passengers.
“He actually sang on the plane,” said Payson’s dad, Danny Inkley. “He’s kind of an actor. He sang ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ into the P.A.”
During the sixth annual Santa’s Winter Wonderland event, held by Delta Air Lines Saturday at six different locations, kids from Primary Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospitals for Children-Salt Lake City, along with their family members, were taxied on a decorated Boeing 737 to the Delta hangar. When they arrived, they deplaned to the sound of applause from employees dressed as elves, snowmen and other holiday characters.
Stations with crafts and activities, like face painting and pictures with Santa, were set up around the hangar, each run by a different Delta department. During the event, every child — including the siblings of patients — received a gift from their wish list.
After visiting a station where the kids received stockings to stuff, Payson displayed his, which was filled with “all kinds” of toys.
“Oh, I got a car!” Payson exclaimed, removing a wooden racing car from the stocking. “There’s so much stuff in there, and like play-dough. Oh, and like over there, they said take an ornament!”
Danny Inkley explained that Payson was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 6.
“Actually, he had his seventh birthday in the hospital, right after he was diagnosed. And it’s just heavy. It’s dark, kind of a constant weight. And he had a really good diagnosis, he responded really well, but it’s hard,” the father explained.
“And stuff like this is, it’s just light. And it’s not even the stuff he gets, which is incredible, it’s just the people that are so into giving and lifting other people up. It’s remarkable that there are people like this, and organizations like Delta that put all this time and effort into stuff like this just to help families feel a little lighter.”
Inkley described the event as “hopeful. And the kids that are here, they’re just the best. These kids are special,” he said.
Bret Larson, department manager for the Salt Lake City Delta ramp, dressed up as an elf.
Of the event, he said, “There’s not a thing I don’t enjoy. Long hours, but it’s really fun. Seeing the kids come off the plane, seeing what they get (from) Santa Claus. Everything about this event is fun. It’s an opportunity for us to give back, for people to give back to their community.”
After her family went on a tour of the plane, Amy Stratton, a mom, said, “It’s been amazing, really amazing. The effort everyone put into it is very touching.”
She said her son, Cade, 6, a patient at Shriners Hospitals for Children, “loved meeting Santa, and he told Santa he wanted a surprise for Christmas. And he got a Kindle. And he’s very excited.”
His sister got a Minecraft Lego set, and his older siblings received books.
But after receiving the Kindle, the 6-year-old “went into the airplane, and now his favorite thing was looking in the cockpit,” his mom said as Cade wandered off to high-five a group of elves.
“He’s having a great time."