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Before Santa, Mrs. Claus and the Catawba County Fraternal Order of Police entered J.T. Sainâ€™s hospital room on Tuesday night, he hadnâ€™t eaten in hours.
Sain, a 2-year-old boy, had been in Catawba Valley Medical Center for nearly 48 hours with his mother, Kisha, after suffering an asthma attack earlier in the week.
He had refused most food for almost two days.
However, when Mrs. Claus approached his bedside and slid a couple of Hersheyâ€™s Kisses in his tiny hands, he was quick to unpeel a wrapper, pop one in his mouth and enjoy the chocolate.
â€śSorry if heâ€™s not supposed to have sweets,â€ť said Carl Pope, the president of Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 26 who organized the annual trip to the hospital.
â€śThatâ€™s OK,â€ť Kisha said. â€śIâ€™m just glad heâ€™s eating. This is very, very sweet.â€ť
J.T., who was scheduled to leave the hospital within the next few days, was one of several children and elderly residents the FOP visited in the hospital. In addition to the candy, Santa and Mrs. Claus also gave J.T. stuffed animals and a present for Christmas.
At CVMC, the FOP group â€” made up of Pope, his wife Jamie (Mrs. Claus), FOP member Gary Fruend (Santa) and FOP member Carroll Darnell â€” also shared gifts with several other children in the Pediatric Care unit of the hospital.
The FOPâ€™s trip to CVMC, as well as Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory, has become an annual tradition. Pope has organized the event for the past 22 years, he said.
The hospital giveaways are in addition to the more than 100 turkeys the FOP gives out to needy families each Thanksgiving and Christmas, Jamie said.
â€śWe start in August and begin putting everything together for the end of the year,â€ť she said. â€śThe hospital visits are always our favorite.â€ť
The FOP members visit children and elderly patients at both hospitals. This year, the FOP also visited the Palliative Care and Hospice of Catawba Valley on Wednesday, sharing gifts with patients there as well, Pope said.
After visiting J.T. on Tuesday night, the group traveled a few floors up to share gifts with two retired officers of the Catawba County Sheriffâ€™s Office.
Bruce Crump, a FOP member and retired CCSO deputy, was in the hospital with a heart issue when Pope, Santa and Mrs. Claus stopped by.
Pope put a stuffed gorilla at Crumpâ€™s bedside.
â€śIsnâ€™t that your twin?â€ť he joked.
Crump laughed and told Pope that the doctor had been in his room just moments before, delivering good news about his prognosis.
â€śGood, because you hurry up and get better because I got a lot of work for you to do,â€ť Pope joked to Crump, who is on the FOPâ€™s work detail team.
After visiting Crump, the FOP team traveled just a few rooms down to visit another retired CCSO deputy on the same hallway. It was K.B. Kroutz, a retired deputy also in the hospital with a heart issue.
â€śAinâ€™t you got anywhere else better to be laid up than here?â€ť Pope said.
â€śIâ€™m trying. Iâ€™m trying,â€ť Kroutz said.
After giving Kroutz a stuffed animal and gift bag with presents, the FOP headed out and left for Frye, where they would repeat the same process.
â€śIf you need anything at all, call me,â€ť he said â€” a phrase synonymous with Pope and the FOP.
Community and Facebook donations â€” and donations from Unifour Pediatrics, Smoky D's and Wendy and Douglas Travis â€” provided gifts for the hospital trip.
Pope said the need in the county is growing. He said help request calls â€” which is how he, his wife and FOP members target those in need â€” have increased steadily as of late to a point where the group has to turn people away.
The Popes said anyone in need can contact the FOPâ€™s office at 828-695-1704.