By Staff Writer - December 19, 2022
The presents are stacked up in doctor’s offices. They’re tucked away in conference rooms. One assistant manager for nursing volunteered her office to be used as a toy closet. In the Gastrointestinal Oncology Clinic on the fifth floor of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Magnolia campus, the holiday spirit infiltrates every square inch of space this time of year.
That’s because nurse practitioner Daly Belinc and her crew of advanced practice professionals are busy moonlighting as elves. This year, they gathered hundreds of presents for Foster Angels of Hillsborough County, an organization that provides gifts for the thousands of local children who spend their holidays in foster care. The APPs sort through wish lists (and check them twice, of course). They shop for bicycles, laptops, drum sets, clothes and toys. They wrap and stack and then load the gifts into trucks. If Santa had a workshop in Florida, it would be here.
“It takes all of us to try to keep everything together and make sure that all the kids are accounted for,” said Belinc, who works with delegates across departments to coordinate donations and wish lists. The group collected gifts for more than 200 children this year. That’s up from the 28 children Belinc took on when she first started.
“It is a job, and we have to be careful and pay attention to detail,” Belinc said, explaining how much effort the group puts into making sure the wish lists are thoughtfully fulfilled. Belinc chairs a committee of 11 APPs that reviews the wish lists, notes which children are in the same household, then divides and conquers among the departments. “What we try to do is make sure that in the same household one kid is not going to open a computer and the other open a pair of socks. We try to keep a balance between that.”
Andres E. Morales, a nurse practitioner in Radiation Oncology, has been volunteering with the Angel Tree program for the past three years. This year, he joined Belinc’s committee. His motivation: personal experience.
“When I was 10 years old, my family and I moved to the United States from Puerto Rico. My dad was an end-stage renal disease patient, and we relocated to Tampa in preparation for his kidney transplant,” he said. “We were struggling financially, and when Christmas came around, I remember the disappointing feeling of not being able to open presents on Christmas Day. That feeling is the reason why I volunteer. Every child deserves to experience the magic of Christmas.”
The APP effort is just one branch of Moffitt’s contribution to the Angel Tree program. Across the cancer center, trees were stocked with angel cutouts listing the wishes of children who have had a tough year. Team members, volunteers and patients were all welcome to join in the gift-giving.
Stephanie MacNeel, executive director of Foster Angels of Hillsborough County, estimates Moffitt took on wish lists for about 800 children in total (including Belinc’s efforts) this year. In the more than 20 years Moffitt has been participating in the program, MacNeel said the cancer center has likely provided gifts for more than 10,000 kids in care.
“Moffitt is our second-largest sponsor in all of Hillsborough County,” MacNeel said. “Without Moffitt, there would be no possibility that we could cover the amount of children that we cover. It could not happen.”
As the wish lists on the Moffitt trees were picked bare, more angel tags were added. Meanwhile, Belinc and her fellow APPs continued to request more wish lists to fill as well. The volunteer angels will never meet the children or families they bought gifts for. But the kids will never forget the year their wishes came true.