MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A chance encounter with University of St. Thomas students and a custodian who plays Santa on the side has brought a smile to a lot of children who are dealing with cancer.
Behind every beard, every rosy cheek and pair of glasses, there is usually a reason why Santa is Santa. For Mike Elwell, that reason is Jeffery, his son who died of leukemia seven years ago. Jeffrey was 20 years old.
At the time, Elwell's son made him promise he'd continue to dress up as Santa and visit children with cancer in the hospital.
"Here you got a young man who is fighting for his life and he's all concerned about everybody else," said Elwell, just after he'd delivered gifts on a December morning at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital.
That promise was unknown to University of St. Thomas sophomores Brian Keller and Zach Quinn when they ran into Elwell, the lead custodian, at their school back in November.
"The cool thing about this is that it was such a coincidence," said Keller.
The students walked into the elevator with Elwell and remarked to him how much he looked like Santa.
"Big Mike asked us what we were doing, so we told him we were working on a class project," said Keller.
To which, Elwell responded, "I guess I can't help you there."
But the conversation didn't stop there. Keller and Quinn told Elwell about their new hat company, Love Your Melon. They started it through an entrepreneurship class at UST. For every hat they sell, they give one away to a child in need or a child with cancer.
The students say they wanted to start a business that would make a difference with people.
"When we learned (Elwell) was at Amplatz Hospital, our eyes lit up because we knew there was some sort of connection," said Quinn.
A meeting and a few phone calls later, the three of them delivered hats and gifts at Amplatz to children with cancer.
The hats are made of natural fibers and come in large for adults and small for children. While some of the children didn't quite get the concept, there were plenty of parents that we grateful for the thought.
"It's awesome," said April Brynteson, mother to 3-year-old Addison, who was about to undergo a bone marrow transplant.
For Quinn and Keller, it was an incredible experience and one they hope to do again during the week between Christmas and New Year's, a generally slower time at the hospital. They've already sold 400 hats and have ordered 800 more.
"It was one of the most rewarding things, personally, I have ever done," Quinn said.
For more information on where to buy the Love Your Melon hats, you can go their website.
for more features.