They plod into the hospital cafeteria, some wearing sweatshirts and many with tired faces.
Eating because they have to, these are the parents of children who are spending Christmas Eve at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite Hospital.
It is a room full of people who don’t want to be there — except Jerry Hatcher Jr.
That’s right where Jerry has been for nearly half of the 12 Christmas Eves in his lifetime. He saves his allowance all year and collects donations so he can surprise patients’ loved ones with a free breakfast or lunch.
He does it to brighten their holiday season, because he knows what families at the hospital are going through.
His younger brother, Javier, was only supposed to be in Scottish Rite two or three days when he was admitted in 2013. He left about three weeks later without one of his lungs.
After Javier was born, their mother Jenny Hatcher explained, a mass formed that took up two-thirds of a lung. Dealing with the condition drained the family, who were living in Cobb County at the time, not just emotionally, but it was expensive to eat three meals a day in the hospital cafeteria.
She and her husband, a truck driver, said Javier is a happy 5-year-old boy recovering well, even with asthma in his remaining lung.
“We cross our fingers when winter hits,” she said.
But Jerry Jr. was changed by watching what his family went through.
At age 7, Jerry asked his father if he could use the money set aisde to get him the just-released PlayStation 4 for Christmas and instead buy the meals at the hospital.
“That first year had me in tears,” his father said.
By 12:30 p.m. that initial day before Christmas, Jerry had spent about $500, feeding maybe 100 people.
This year, he came with $1,300 of allowance money and donations from friends and family.
His father said he went to bed at 6 p.m. and woke up at 4 a.m. excited to drive from Hoschton to the hospital.
“It’s not a time to be in the hospital. It’s tense,” Jerry said.
And that’s why it meant so much to Tony and Laci Nelson when he bought their breakfast.
As they ate their cheese grits with bacon and eggs, their 5-week-old son Tristan recovered from surgery.
Laci called Tony on Wednesday to say that their newborn had stopped breathing and she was performing CPR on him.
Doctors found that he was born with too much tissue in his throat and so mucus had been pouring into one of his lungs. They quickly performed surgery.
The parents said Jerry’s breakfast hopefully would be the last one they’d eat with Tristan in the neonatal intensive care unit.
With the strings of the yellow facemask still wrapped around his ears, Tony Nelson, 30, said that Jerry’s buying their breakfast was inspiring.
“To see children who come from good families, who have a good heart, it’s promising,” said Nelson, a teacher at Towers High School in Decatur.
His wife added: “I just hope we can raise our son to be like that.”