A Kendallville mom is thanking a mall Santa for a small act of kindness that made a big impact.
Beth Salzbrenner’s son Austin, 4, has used a feeding tube to get his nutrients since he was 9 months old. After years of doctors visits and feeding therapy, he finally got the go ahead from his doctors to eat food orally in September.
That means this is the first Christmas in more than two years that Austin has gotten to eat cookies.
Salzbrenner decided she wanted to commemorate the occasion with a picture.
She got the idea to get a picture of Santa feeding her son from a Facebook page she follows of other moms with kids that use feeding tubes.
“I thought it would be a good way to have like a memorial picture,” Salzbrenner said.
After asking around to see if any local Santas would accommodate her request and coming up empty, she decided to take Austin to the Glenbrook Square Mall in Fort Wayne Sunday.
It was a busy day for pictures with Santa at the mall. Long lines and big crowds were starting to overwhelm and overstimulate Austin, who has Sensory Processing Disorder with some autistic behaviors.
That’s when Santa’s helpers and the magic of Christmas came in.
Santa’s workers noticed Austin struggling and quickly jumped in to help.
“They saw that he was stressed out in the line, and they let us go right to the front,” Salzbrenner recalled.
It was then that she brought up her special request for Santa.
Salzbrenner said Santa and his helpers didn’t hesitate to make the memorable moment happen. They patiently waited as Salzbrenner changed Austin into a different outfit and prepared his feeding tube.
Then the moment happened that Salzbrenner and her son will never forget.
Santa shared his cookies with Austin and fed him some formula through his feeding tube. Salzbrenner said her son could hardly contain his excitement.
“He was just so mesmerized that Santa was feeding him,” Salzbrenner said. “He looked at me and said ‘Mommy, see what he’s doing? He’s giving my milkies.'”
Santa also took a more traditional picture with Austin and his sister Gracie, 7.
Salzbrenner said everyone was extremely accommodating throughout the entire experience.
“It was like magical. Like he was sharing his cookies and helping him with his milk,” Salzbrenner said with a smile. “I could tell [Santa] was nervous because he was shaking, but he still stood there and waited for the pictures to be done. And he wasn’t even rushing it.”
Salzbrenner said she didn’t have a chance to give Santa a proper thank you, but she wishes she had.
“I just want to hug him and tell him thank you for that picture. It’s an amazing picture we’ll cherish forever,” Salzbrenner said.
Perhaps what’s even more special than the initial photo, is the reaction that it’s gotten from the public.
Salzbrenner posted the picture on Facebook Sunday evening. In less than two days, it was shared more than 35,000 times, and got more than 75,000 reactions.
You can see the original post here.
Salzbrenner said she’s blown away by the huge positive response. She hopes her and her son’s experience will help bring more awareness to kids with disabilities and their needs, while showing that they want love and attention just like anyone else.