"There are all kinds of things young people could be involved in," says Katie's father, Dean, "but when your child is involved with something that makes you really proud, you just need to support it all you can
Fifteen year old Katie Greene spent the week before Christmas in the car with her parents.
In a caravan really.
She and her mom Liz, a saleswoman, were in the family van and her dad Dean, a driver’s education instructor, was behind the wheel of a pick-up truck with a U-Haul behind it. All the cars were packed tightly with toys and on a mission.
Katie has been delivering presents to children’s hospitals across the carolinas since she was just six.
It all started after a trip to Walmart with her dad that she says somehow got her thinking about sick kids at Christmas. She told her parents she wanted to do some shopping.
“I started doing a lot of chores around the house and my grandparents gave me some money and in two weeks I raised $162,” Katie tells PEOPLE, “and we bought two big bags of gifts and brought them to Levine Children’s Hospital a week before Christmas.”
Now, nine years later, Katie is still delivering presents to Levine Children’s Hospital — and has added about a dozen more hospitals where she and her family make special deliveries — including UNC Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill.
That’s where seventeen year old Skyla Rippy was for more than six months last year — even Christmas — because she was born with a rare blood disease.
“On Christmas Eve I had talked to my nurses and said, “Santa Claus doesn’t come see us,’ ” she tells PEOPLE. ” I was just joking, but they laughed at me and said ‘Actually, he does.’ ”
Only “he” was actually a “she.” It was Katie, lovingly called “Katie Claus” by some of her fans.
Rippy smiles when she remembers last Christmas.
“I called down to the hospital cafeteria and ordered cookies and milk for Santa,” she says. “I went to sleep as normal and when I woke up there was a big red bag full of gifts from Katie’s Kidz.”
Katie works throughout the year talking to community and church groups about her cause, recruiting help and collecting donations.
“I have a power point presentation that explains the history of Katie’s Kidz,” she says. “It has pictures from the beginning and how I got started. I think many people are kind of unsure at first when they see a fifteen year old show up but then they get into it.”
Katie’s parents estimate they’ve given away more than $30,000 in gifts and toys since they got started in 2007.
The whole family gets in on it, spending weeks planning and researching to make sure they get the most bang for their buck. They even moved Thanksgiving dinner to lunchtime so that they can take advantage of the deals.
“We start shopping at five. We get in line with the crazy people.”
Her dad couldn’t be prouder.
“The world is kind of a strange place these days,” he says, “and there are all kinds of things young people could be involved in but when your child is involved with something that makes you really proud, you just need to support it all you can.”