When you think of Santa Claus, you probably picture a large, jolly old white-bearded man in a red suit, carrying a big bag overflowing with toys and riding in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer — and you’re right. More locally, however, gifts are being delivered all year round to hospital pediatric wards, and their bearer is a handsome, athletic high school freshman with a heart of gold. His name? Ray Mohler Jr. — a.k.a. Little Saint Nick.
Ray, 15, an East Rockaway resident, has been in the toy business, so to speak, since 2005, when, with the help of his parents, Dina and Ray Mohler Sr., he created the Little Saint Nick Foundation, a nonprofit that provides sick children with toys, games and more.
Ray is now a ninth-grader at Lynbrook High School. He plays travel hockey and is an avid golfer and surfer, but at one point, his family couldn’t imagine that he would be able to do any of those things. “With his physical limitations, he couldn’t do anything, except for swimming,” said his father. “The water was low-impact.”
When Ray was 4, he was diagnosed with a rare hip disease and was a patient at Schneider Children’s Hospital (now Cohen Children’s Medical Center). Even though he had to wear leg braces for two years, he thought he was blessed to be able to leave the hospital. At 5, he decided that he wanted to give something back to the friends he left behind at the hospital, who weren’t as fortunate as he was to be able to go home. So Ray decided to donate half of his unwrapped holiday toys to them that Christmas.
Grateful that his disease was not life-threatening, he continued to return to the hospital with his own Christmas presents to cheer up the young patients. The following year, he went door to door to raise money to purchase toys for sick children. In 2005, his efforts grew so extensive that they became the Little Saint Nick Foundation, with the mission, as Ray describes it, of making hospitals kids-friendly places.
The foundation, which operates through grants, donations and fundraisers, changes the way children think about hospital stays by allowing them to do what they love the most — watching TV and DVDs, listening to music, playing video games and, most important, he said, “playing with toys, toys, toys!”