BY JAMES FARRELL
The parking lot of St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children in Bayside was alive with music, dancing, face painting and pumpkin decorating on Sunday morning as the hospital hosted its first annual Autumn Festival fundraiser.
The event was open to children living in the hospital and families from the surrounding community and all proceeds went toward St. Mary’s programs and services, which focus on long-term and rehabilitative care. By the end of the day, the hospital had raised more than $6,000, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Burner Barden.
At the festival, children danced along with Zumba instructors to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Others sat around tables with other children, putting faces on pumpkins, while others made arts and crafts. Panera Bread and Nabisco donated food and Mr. Met made an appearance.
The Autumn Festival is a new event for St. Mary’s, which typically hosts several small events throughout the year and an annual walk event in the spring, according to Victoria Falcone, the manager of strategic partnerships at St. Mary’s. The new tradition aims to provide the children at St. Mary’s with a sense of normalcy and an opportunity to celebrate the fall with neighbors and community members.
“Our kids don’t go to a normal school, they don’t have those fall festivals or book sales or bake sales, so I figured to combine all of that and do it during the fall time,” Falcone said. “It’s something that they would get if they didn’t live here.”
Children at St. Mary’s can often be cooped up inside for long periods of time as they recover from illnesses or go through rehabilitation while living in the hospital, according to Dr. Edwin Simpser, the president and CEO of St. Mary’s. Events such as the Autumn Festival help give them opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and interact with people outside the walls of St. Mary’s.
“We have some kids who are here from months to years as inpatients, and even the kids that we take care of at home—we take care of a lot of kids at home—some of them don’t get out very much, some don’t get to interact with a lot of people,” he said. “It’s just great for them. It’s stimulating. We need that kind of stimulation.”
Helping maintain a positive attitude can also help with the recovery process, Simpser added.
Fernando Whitehead, a child going through rehabilitation at the hospital, was enjoying his time decorating a pumpkin at a table filled with colorful stickers, felt and other decorations. When asked about his artistic vision for the pumpkin he was decorating, Fernando said that he wasn’t sure, but added, “It looks good so far.”
He was excited to be spending the day out in the crisp autumn air.
“You get to go outside and there are more things to do,” he said.
His mother, Natalie Whitehead, was also happy to see him out and about, adding that he has spent a month in rehab at St. Mary’s.
“The fact that he can come outside and do this, it’s different,” she said. “It’s a different experience for everyone here.”
When asked what his favorite part of the day was, his mother held up a half-eaten helping of cotton candy.
“And next, the pumpkin,” she added.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, jfarrell @queenstribune.com or @farrellj329.