Gifts of Remembrance and Resilience: Saint Peter’s University Hospital Hosts Annual Oncology Kids’ Holiday Party and Scholarship Awards Program

December 19, 2023

Gifts of Remembrance and Resilience:  Saint Peter’s University Hospital Hosts Annual Oncology Kids’ Holiday Party and Scholarship Awards Program
New Brunswick, N.J. – December 19, 2023 – Saint Peter’s University Hospital proudly hosted its Oncology Kids’ Holiday Party and Scholarship Awards Program on Friday, December 8.  The 17th annual celebration of remembrance and resilience dates to December 2006, when the concept was created by several oncology nurses who wanted to make the holidays a bit brighter for children who had lost a parent to cancer.

Realizing that the holidays for children who have lost a parent can be particularly painful, the nurses decided that hosting a party with gifts from Santa and activities in which children could share their experiences with others would be both cathartic and an opportunity to honor their loved ones. Initially the party hosted 14 kids but has since grown to over 100. It includes not only children who have recently lost a loved one to cancer, but now college- and high school-aged children who have returned year after year. One family with nine children whose parent died within three months of their pancreatic cancer diagnosis has attended the party every year since it began.

“The nurses get to know the family members of their cancer patients when they visit their loved ones during frequent treatment sessions and extended hospitalizations,” explains Avril Keldo, DNP, MSN, ANP-BC, OCN, director of Professional Practice, Clinical Education and Nursing Research at Saint Peter’s University Hospital, and the event organizer for consecutive years. “The event has become so much more than a holiday party – we’ve built a ‘family’ that delivers hope, resilience, and lifelong friendships.”

An impactful outgrowth of the event has been the creation of a college scholarship program with recipients announced during the party. The inspiration for the scholarship was the result of a patient with breast cancer whose daughter had recently graduated from high school. The mother had expressed to the staff at Saint Peter’s how much she wanted to live to see her daughter graduate from college. Unfortunately, she passed away six months later. As a result, several groups got together and created a scholarship so the child could fulfill her mother’s wish.

In 2012, Celeste Evans, whose husband C. David Evans had passed away from cancer at Saint Peter’s, decided to create an ongoing scholarship program to support the higher education goals of these children. As a single mother whose daughter Carla started attending the Oncology Kids’ Holiday Party at age four, Celeste knew the challenges that some of these children would now face having not only lost a parent to cancer but perhaps facing the financial impact of losing the family’s breadwinner, as well. She and her husband were both advocates of higher education and Celeste felt strongly that making sure the scholarship continued from year to year was the best way to honor his legacy.

“I was so young when my father passed, that I have very few memories of him, but the scholarship program has allowed me to really get to know him. Through the program, I’m connected to his love of lifelong learning and get to see that passed on to others who share those values, too,” said Carla Evans who is currently a senior at the University of Hartford. “The Oncology Kids’ Party has also given me another huge gift, an extended family that has provided love and support and because of that, I look forward to the holiday season with joy rather than sadness.”

The 2023 C. David Evans Scholarship recipients announced this year are:
  1. -Nicholas Mercado, a resident of Helmetta, has been attending the Saint Peter’s Oncology Kids’ Party since he was eight years old. He attends Middlesex College.
  2. -Sisters Kaitlyn and Kelsey Hart of Howell who attend Brookdale Community College.

“We can’t replace a loved one, but we can let people dream,” said Celeste. “It’s so easy and selfless to give back. I’ve learned that no matter how small the gesture, the rewards come back many-fold. To see so many familiar faces returning year after year means I’ve had the privilege of watching many of these kids grow up before my eyes!”

One of the past scholarship recipients, Gavin Grandison, expressed his gratitude by saying, “The C. David Evans Scholarship has had a huge impact on my life. The scholarship provided me the opportunity to attend Raritan Valley Community College and later Montclair State University. I’m super grateful there were individuals willing to lend me a hand when I needed it most. As a result, I’ve learned first-hand how the goodness of others can affect the lives of strangers.” Gavin is currently employed by Church and Dwight as an associate chemist and looking forward to the holiday season.

For more information or to donate to the scholarship fund, visit

About Saint Peter’s University Hospital
Saint Peter’s University Hospital, a member of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, is a 478-bed acute-care teaching hospital sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen. Saint Peter’s, which received its sixth consecutive designation as a Magnet® hospital for nursing excellence by the American Nurses Credentialing Center in 2020, is also state-designated children’s hospital and a regional perinatal center, and is a regional specialist in diabetes, gastroenterology, head and neck surgery, oncology, orthopedics, and women’s services. Saint Peter’s is the recipient of the Beacon Award for Excellence from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses for the adult intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care unit, cardiac progressive care unit and the pediatric intensive care unit. The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital provides families with access to a full range of pediatric specialties, including a nationally recognized Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, pediatric surgery and orthopedic surgery featuring innovative anterior scoliosis correction. The hospital has the state’s only hospital-based, midwifery-led birth center – the Mary V. O’Shea Birth Center, accredited by the Commission for the Accreditation of Birth Centers. Saint Peter’s is a sponsor of residency programs in obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and internal medicine, and is a major clinical affiliate of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. Visit or call 732.745.8600.


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