Local organization helps families battling illness for the holidays

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CHESAPEAKE, Va. - This time around it’s not reindeer who are helping Santa and his elves get around Hampton Roads - instead different crews of police, Fire and Rescue along with the S.W.A.T. team are giving out wrapped presents while singing Christmas carols.

“When people think about who we are and what we do, they think about hospice care and they think about kids who are dying and that could not be further from the truth. Kids are living every day for how much they can squeeze out of every single day and all of these folks today are helping us do that," says Debbie Stitzer-Brame, Executive Director of Edmarc.

The whole process of getting all of the gifts underneath different families’ Christmas trees starts back in July. That’s when the organization, Edmarc, whose mission is to relieve the stress an illness brings to a family- gets the children’s list.

“Every kid loves the fire engine. So, we get a lot of enjoyment seeing the looks on their faces as well," says Battalion Chief Lawrence Matthews, Chesapeake Fire Department.

This year, volunteers will be spreading holiday cheer to 85 families throughout the seven cities of Hampton Roads.

For a while now, Sherise Johnson and her family have been on the list for Santa’s stops.

“Every day is not promised to him. So, every day with him waking up is just a blessing. Then with them coming every year, it’s just a feeling that’s unbelievable," says Johnson.

Sherise says her 11-year-old son Malachi was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer back in 2016. Then in 2017, the cancer left his body. But, this year has been extremely hard for Sherise, her husband and their other children because Malachi relapsed and is fighting for his life once again.

“They found about the size of an egg on his spine. At that point in time, he wasn’t able to walk. So, he had to have emergency surgery and have that removed," says Johnson.

Having gone through physical therapy and a familiar round of Chemo treatments, Malachi is walking again. With his huge smile and excitement to open up his gifts - he’s just one of many children whose Christmas just got a little bit merrier.


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