PLAINS TWP. — George Bowers wasn’t dressed in a red suit trimmed in white, nor did he ride in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer when he arrived at the Janet Weis Children’s Unit at Geisinger Wyoming Valley on Tuesday.
But Bowers still played the role of Santa Claus perfectly as he and his son, Connor, walked down the hallway carrying loads of gifts.
As he has done for each of the last 17 years, Bowers made his annual trip to Geisinger to deliver presents of fishing rods and reels to be handed out to the children who will be spending the holidays in the hospital.
An avid angler and founder of Fishing for a Cause — a bass fishing club that does charity work — Bowers came up with the idea to deliver rods and reels to the kids in 2001 after his daughter spent several weeks at Geisinger in Danville after she was born.
“While we were in the (neonatal intensive care) NIC Unit, I saw people bringing blankets, gifts and doing different things to help the children,” said Bowers, who resides in Hanover Township. “That’s when I thought to combine fishing with making the kids happy.”
Bowers said the gift of a fishing rod and reel allows the kids to temporarily forget about being in the hospital during the holidays. On Tuesday he donated a dozen Zebco rod and reel combinations to be handed out by hospital staff.
But the impact of the donation goes beyond simply the joy of unwrapping a present, according to Dan Landesberg, administrative director for Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre and Geisinger Wyoming Valley.
“A gift like this gives them hope and it’s something to get excited for when they do get out,” Landesberg said. “We’re so fortunate to have a dedicated person like George do this.”
Kristina Brunn, a certified child life specialist at the Janet Weis Children’s Unit, said there tends to be fewer donations for older kids in the hospital. The fishing rods are the perfect gift, she said. Before she hands out the rods, Brunn asks the children if they fish or would like to try it.
“We’re a large population of hunters and anglers in this area. You can’t go wrong with a fishing pole for a gift,” she said. “Usually when I give them the fishing rod they ask right away if they can take it home. They really look forward to using it when they get out.”
Bowers said he’s received “thank you” letters over the years from kids and in some cases the gift of a fishing rod has changed lives.
Several years ago, Bowers said, one of the recipients of a rod and reel was a 13-year-old boy who was really having a difficult time. Once he was out of the hospital, Bowers said, the boy’s grandfather took him fishing with the rod and reel every weekend. The boy fell in love with the sport and strengthened the bond with his grandfather.
“It was a new start for them,” Bowers said.
And while Bowers began the tradition 17 years ago, he doesn’t intend to stop doing it anytime soon.
“This is something that my son and I enjoy doing together,” he said. “It makes us feel like we’re giving back to the community and giving these kids a chance to smile and eventually experience the enjoyment of fishing.”