PEORIA, Ill (WMBD) – Riding a fire engine, Bill “Santa Bill” Turney made a grand entrance Thursday morning at the OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital in Illinois dressed in his traditional red Santa Claus costume for the 24th year of the community tradition.
Turney was unable to visit the children in person on Thursday morning as he normally would due to COVID-19. Therefore, he made sure that hospital patients and their families could see him coming from their windows.
“I wouldn’t change the way we do Christmas with my family and with all my friends for anything,” Turney said.
OSF Healthcare’s special visitor coordinator Demetra Gaines said she was grateful to the Peoria Police and Fire Department for escorting Turney and her donated toys to the hospital. She said she remembered when he first wanted to visit sick children in the hospital around Christmas.
“I have worked here for 31 years and met Santa Bill about 24 years ago,” Gaines said. “So Bill came with just a box of cards, now he’s coming with a U-Haul full of toys.”
Marshall Mueller, Santa Bill’s “sleigh driver,” usually drives the U-Haul truck full of donations. He has worked with Santa Bill for about two decades.
“His drive and passion are still the same today as when he started out,” said Mueller. “Maybe even more now.”
Santa Bill and his “helpers” have been collecting donations year round for the Thursday morning distribution.
“The guy you see in the costume is pretty much the same guy you get every day,” Turney said.
They even created a Amazon Wish List for people to donate virtually. Turney said he was concerned they might not fill the truck with toys in 2020, but was proud to see that they had enough donations to fill the truck.
Turney said this year is dedicated to her late son Michael, who passed away shortly after his first birthday.
He hopes to continue toy donation collection every year to give the hospital every holiday season. Gaines said donations are distributed throughout the year to more than 8,000 hospital patients and families / siblings. Gifts are used for birthdays, difficult proceedings, and of course, holidays.