Letters to Santa

How one nurse’s thoughtful idea has changed the way children experience the Emergency Department.

Last year, Joe Schmuecker, RN, set up a mailbox so pediatric patients being cared for in the Emergency Department (ED) could write letters to Santa. He then personally responded to each letter at the end of his shift.

“As they decorated the pediatric ED last year, I wanted to do something fun our patients could do to take their minds of the reason they are in the ED,” says Schmuecker.

This year, Santa’s mailbox has been set up again, and Schmuecker is ready to bring some holiday cheer.

The mailbox this year is a bit fancier than last year, and Schmuecker has already replied to 35 letters in just one week.

“The letters that stand out to me the most are the ones where the child checks the ‘I’ve been naughty’ box, though the kids do have a chance to explain why they think they’ve been naughty,” says Schmuecker. “There are also the letters that ask for selfless acts, like having their sibling not be sick. Those messages stay with you.”

Ultimately, Schmuecker would love to see the mailbox expand beyond the pediatric ED. And the mailbox isn’t just open to our patients; children of staff are invited to drop off a letter in the mailbox as well.

“It’s something that puts a smile on a child’s face while they are being treated or are here to see a loved one; it can take them away from the fear of the hospital,” says Schmuecker.

“This might be one of the worst days in the life of this patient or their family, so I try to let them know we aren’t just nurses, we are humans, and we are here for them as people who care, too.”



  1. What a fabulous idea from a thoughtful employee Nurse! This does not amaze me when staff create situations that help our patients. This is typical for UIHC!

  2. As a parent of a child, who just was seen in the ER but Joe. I love this. She put a letter in. She is worried about Santa finding her when she is sick. I love this. Thank you Joe for it.

  3. Joe you are the best!!! Your such a warm, compassionate and a great fun loving young man. The Ed is blessed to have you. Great job Joe.
    Marisa Coblentz

  4. This is SO amazing. Thank YOU Joe for your selfless act and giving your time to such an amazing cause. This special act of kindness will certainly have a big impact on a few of those patients/family members. I know how truly magical it is, from having my own 4 year old, write her letters to Santa. Keep up the great work and the magic of Christmas alive! You are certainly keeping yourself on the “Nice” list 🙂

  5. Joe,great idea next year if u need a Santa’s helper let me know Blessings to you and all the staff at University Children’s Hospital!!!

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