For more than a decade, the Chester County Sheriff’s Office has teamed up with Chester County Hospital to spread cheer in the pediatric and maternity wards during the Easter season. Leading the effort: a furry, six-foot rabbit.
“This is a really feel-good detail, bringing joy to these darling children and new mothers,” said Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh. “Who doesn’t love the Easter Bunny?”
Cpl. Brad DeSando, who has organized the event for the past six years, said the initiative is always well-received and showcases the inner child of whichever deputy gets to wear the costume.
On Thursday, April 13, DeSando and Welsh escorted the Easter Bunny to the hospital, where word spread fast that a special guest was roaming the halls. Visitors, staff, and patient enthusiastically awaited their turns to get photos.
“Wow! That’s not what I expected to see,” said one woman who found a crowd around the Easter Bunny as she exited the elevator. “Can I get a photo?” a maintenance contractor asked. “My co-workers will get a kick out of it.”
The visit was particularly special for Jodi and Jason Kukulka of West Chester, who had just welcomed a baby girl into the family a day earlier. Their son, Owen, will turn 3 on Sunday, and they still have a photo of his visit with the Easter Bunny at Chester County Hospital on their cellphones. In fact, they couldn’t help but wonder if their newborn daughter, as yet unnamed, shrewdly arrived a week and a half early so they could repeat the experience. And this time around, Owen got a junior deputy sheriff’s pin as well as a stuffed bunny.
In another room with a newborn, DeSando, a certified child-seat technician, noticed that the infant safety seat was not properly set up and worked with the couple to fix it.
Lai-Onda Welcome, who works for the county’s Juvenile Probation Department, and her husband, Titus, timed their exit from the hospital’s maternity ward well. Their 3-day-old son, Noah Preston, got to meet the Easter Bunny on his way out of the hospital.
And the Bunny happily posed with Jackie Felicetti, director of the hospital’s Human Resources Department. Felicetti recently authored a children’s book about eggs that is available in the hospital’s gift shop. Proceeds from its sale will go entirely to fund improvements to the Lei-onda Welcome Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
The event’s only momentary dismay came from Ameer Amer in the pediatric ward. The 2-year-old West Chester boy was ecstatic when the Easter Bunny joined him and his parents, Mahmoud and Hadeel, in his room. But the Bunny’s departure prompted a flood tears. The Bunny returned to calm him down, quickly eliciting smiles with high fives and a reminder that the boy’s new stuffed rabbit was his to keep.
Although the initiative seemed tailor-made for Welsh, whose father’s pet name for her as a child became a life-long moniker, she didn’t create it; a Florida couple did. Sam and Eleanor Meiner founded Easter Bunny, Inc. in 1995, receiving 501 (c)(3) status in 2001.
The Meiners quickly realized that sheriff’s offices could help them extend their goal of putting a sparkle in children’s eyes across the country, and they began soliciting partnerships at the national Sheriff’s Conference in Washington D.C. in 2004. Chester County signed on for the following year, receiving a free costume and stuffed bunnies to distribute.
According to the Easter Bunny, Inc., website, 100 sheriffs’ offices and four police departments participated last year, delivering smiles to 9,000 hospitalized children in 29 states.
Welsh said the reception from hospital personnel made the experience even more gratifying. “It was really great to see the reaction of the doctors, nurses, and other staffers,” Welsh said. “The whole event was just pure joy.”
Photo Caption: Jason and Jodi Kukulka of West Chester recreate history by celebrating the birth of their daughter with their son Owen and the Easter Bunny. Three years ago, the Easter Bunny visited Chester County Hospital right after Owen was born.