In the Spirit

Sacramento County, CA  |  Story and photos by Jacqueline Fox
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Shanda Pierce, Franchisor Spirit Stores and sponsor of the party, and William Banks, 5, a Chico resident undergoing treatment at UC Davis.
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Anastacia Reynolds, 14, and her parents, Lisa and Jason Chandler, from Cottonwood, CA.

UC Davis, Shriners Hospitals Party Down With the Kids

Sacramento County, CA (MPG) - Children, few would argue, should never have to spend a single day in a hospital bed, hooked up to life-saving monitors and medications, undergoing treatments for things like cancer, head trauma from accidents and the myriad things that can go wrong.  But, sadly, many do.

To make things feel a little better, to normalize the experience to some degree for the children admitted as patients (and their families) at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospitals for Children in Sacramento, staff and supporters delivered the “spirit” of Halloween, literally and figuratively, and threw them all a big fat party Oct. 18 and 19.

It’s an annual event, says Shanda Pierce, who, alongside her husband, Kirk own more than 20 Spirit Halloween pop-up stores across the Central Valley, as well as Sacramento, Placer and Yuba Counties, and as far north as Redding, CA. 

For the last six years, the Pierce’s and several of their Spirit Halloween store employees have brought costumes, backpacks, toys, face paint, photo booths, craft fixings, live character “actors,” along with a boat-load of Halloween fun to UC Davis’ Children’s Hospital and organized a Halloween bash for the children admitted as patients and their visiting family members. 

In addition to the parties, in the weeks prior to Halloween, Spirit Halloween stores across the region organize a range of fundraisers, including the company’s Vampire Ball, a purple pumpkin painting contest, as well as in-store outreach to Halloween customers to benefit UC Davis programs.  And, last year, Spirit of Halloween fundraisers expanded to include support for Shriners Children’s Hospital next door and now both facilities are recipients of the company’s program.

“Spirit Corporation, our parent company, actually started this program for children’s hospitals back east several years ago and we began participating in 2011,” said Pierce.  “We start planning for the Halloween party and raising funds in all of our stores right after we open in early September, and we don’t stop until we close the doors November 2.”

To date, the Pierce’s stores have raised roughly $360,000 for UC Davis Children’s Hospital, and the company, via the generosity of its customers and other fundraising channels, generated just under $50,000 for Shriner’s the first year of participation, Pierce said.  “Every penny, 100 percent of what we raise in the stores and through fundraisers goes to fund the two facilities’ children’s programs now.”

For William Banks, 5, of Chico, CA and his mother, Amanda, the Halloween “spooktacular” brought a welcome respite from the day-to-day routine they’ve been operating on since he was diagnosed with lymphoma in August.  Banks’ wore a contagious, ear-to-ear smile as he spent the afternoon painting his face and head, crafting and mingling with other kids and their families—doing everything a kid should be doing this time of year, never mind the cart of medications and monitoring devices he had to push around the party.  Those things are just part of life right now.

“This is so great,” William said, freezing for selfies with his mother, taking in the attention from staff, media representatives from this paper and others, including local TV reporters, and of course his fellow patients. “I feel really happy today,” he said, and then went off to paint the top of his head tiger style.

Lisa and Jason Chandler from Cottonwood, CA, joined their daughter, Anastacia Reynolds, 12 for the fun at UC Davis.  Anastacia is recovering from a near-hanging accident on a swing set that has l eft her with a traumatic brain injury, from which she is recovering at a pace that has even astonished her doctors, according to her parents.

“This place is amazing,” said Lisa Chandler, wrapping her arms around her daughter who must currently use a wheel chair to stay mobile.  “We can’t believe how awesome all this is. She’s making such amazing progress and this is really a great way to give her and all the kids a chance to socialize and just be kids for a little while.  This facility is absolutely amazing.  They are the best.”

The UC Davis Child Life and Creative Arts Program is a direct beneficiary of Spirit Store donations.  The program helps coordinate the Halloween party, as well as other events throughout the year, including a holiday with Santa at Christmas.  But its core services provide an ongoing menu of programs and services for patients and their parents through the work of child life specialists, as well as music and art therapists, among others, who deliver a range of powerful coping strategies and educational information for the patients and their parents.

Diana Sundberg who runs the program at UC Davis, said the donations and party made possibly by Spirit Stores is a vital part of the process of keeping kids’ spirits high as they go through what is, in most cases, the scariest time of their lives.  

“We do everything we can to help minimize fears and normalize the hospitalization experience for the children,” said Sundberg.  “By throwing the kids a Halloween party with costumes and games, we give them something they can recognize from home, be a part of, and a little bit of normal that they can carry with them while they are going through their treatment or in the recovery process.  It’s a very scary experience for kids to be away from home, let alone in a hospital. So bringing in Halloween fun for them is one of the ways we work to take those fears away, even if for just a little while.”

Shanda Pierce, Franchisor Spirit Stores and sponsor of the party, and William Banks, 5, a Chico resident undergoing treatment at UC Davis. Anastacia Reynolds, 14, and her parents, Lisa and Jason Chandler, from Cottonwood, CA.The UC Davis Child Life and Creative Arts Program is a direct beneficiary of Spirit Store donations.  The program helps coordinate the Halloween party, as well as other events throughout the year, including a holiday with Santa at Christmas.