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SHERMAN OAKS : July Christmas Helps Sick Kids Forget Troubles

Her words struck him dramatically, and Jack Fox found he had a lump the size of a baseball in his throat.

“What are you people doing here?” the mother of a hospitalized child said. Fox explained that they were bringing Christmas in July to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, something to break the monotony of hospital routine, and bring the holidays a little bit early.

That was good, the mother said, because otherwise her child would not have seen Christmas at all.

“You can take the pain of adults,” said Fox, a veteran newspaper and television reporter, editor and producer who lives in Sherman Oaks. “But when you see a child in pain you want to do something.” He has been a reporter for the New York Post, assignment editor and executive producer at KNXT--now KCBS--managing editor at the Hollywood Reporter, and he owns a publication called the Hollywood News Calendar, which is for people who cover the entertainment business.

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On Saturday, Fox, 65, is running the fifth annual Christmas in July at the hospital, a party for hospitalized children that features Santa Claus, presents and cartoon characters, at which even the food carts are adorned with tinsel. Last year, Fox donned a Santa suit because one of the Santas had to cancel. Another year, he bore the friendly jibes of passersby while he drove along Sunset Boulevard with a Christmas tree tied to the roof of his car.

But it’s been worth the five years of work.

“If you get a smile out of a kid, it’s the biggest payoff in the world,” said Fox, who is treasurer of the Radio and Television News Assn. of Southern California and uses his contacts there to get volunteers from the media to help with the event. Toys are donated by local toy companies and by members of the association who will attend a party at the hospital Friday night.

“No chemical can give you the lift that this gives you,” Fox said.

“It takes their minds off their illnesses,” said Kelli Anderson, an assistant nurse manager at the hospital, which treats many children whose parents could not otherwise afford the care. “I think any time you can do that they will do much better.”

Even those children who don’t believe in Santa Claus are glad to see the jolly character, somehow buying into the magic surrounding him, Anderson said.

“Some kids are a little puzzled when we say ‘Merry Christmas,’ ” said Liz Mirzian, director of volunteer services at the hospital. But despite the conflict between the Christmas decorations and the calendar, the timing for the event could not be better, she said.

“We have several nice Christmas events in December,” said Mirzian. “But after the holidays they are all forgotten and so are the children.”

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What is also exciting about it is seeing how touched the parents are at having something like this, Mirzian said.

“The parents are so overwrought with their child in the hospital,” Fox said. “This is good for them. They’re absolutely overjoyed.”

Fox said he has come close to his goal of creating as much as possible of a Christmas feeling in the middle of July.

“The only thing missing is reindeer, because they don’t allow reindeer in a hospital,” said Fox. “Maybe next year.”

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