CHICAGO — A lot of people turn their gaze towards items under the tree on Christmas morning, but that’s not how it worked for some people in one Bartlett household.

“One thing that our family had a tradition of was Christmas stockings, even more so than the big presents around the Christmas tree,” said Kevin Koster when talking about his family on the holidays. “Sometimes the little toys in the stockings were the most precious and the most fun with the kids.”

His wife, Nancy Koster, was a big part of that tradition as they worked together to give their three children – Chris Matt, and Kaitlyn – a special Christmas. At the same time, she was also caring for the kids at Lurie Children’s Hospital, where she was a nurse practitioner in the cardiac intensive care unit for decades.

When Nancy died suddenly in September 2016, her family sought to find a way to pay tribute to her contributions to those she helped through the years. A combination of her passion and the Koster family Christmas tradition led to the perfect idea.

“We figured, you know what, she had her heart and soul into her work with the kids at the hospital. We really wanted to do something to keep her spirit in that way with the kids at the hospital,” said Nancy’s daughter Kaitlyn Koster. “We thought what better way than to give them gifts at Christmas.”

So “Nancy’s Stockings” was born in 2017 as the Kosters raises money and take donations to put together these gifts for the patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Creating and stuffing them as a family with various items, they drive to downtown Chicago to deliver the stockings, which are then distributed to the children.

“She’d love it,” said Nancy’s son Chris Koster of the initiative.

Stockings have been delivered to the hospital in the last six years, even during 2020 and 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic presented a few challenges. Each year the family picks a theme, and this year is “Superman,” which is based on a patient that Nancy helped before and after surgery in 1981.

The giving of these stockings to the patients is one way that Nancy’s family tries to carry on her legacy at Lurie Children’s Hospital, while also keeping her memory close to their hearts during the holidays.

“It’s wonderful, selfishly, for us to keep that spirit alive in us and to remember that not only this time of year but all year, all throughout the year, it’s important to think of others who are going through a really hard time,” said Nancy’s son Matt Koster. “It was just so easy for my mom to do that naturally. Just did that all year, always thinking of other people first.

“It’s humbling to see that in somebody else and to help to try and bring that out of us on a daily basis as well and then share that with our kids, too, and what their grandma was like back then.”

See more from the Koster family in Larry Hawley’s story on “Nancy’s Stockings” on WGN News Now in the video above.

You can learn more about Nancy’s Stockings by clicking here.