Ministry celebrates community at Christmas

December 15, 2016


While Christmas tree lightings and holiday carols brighten the mood at many Catholic health care facilities during the holidays, a number of CHA ministry members have their own traditions, reaching out to the needy in their communities, and inviting their communities to offer warm wishes to the sick and recuperating at Christmastime.

A mother's request for holiday cards to decorate her daughter's room at the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers, N.Y., has grown into the Holiday Card Project. The rooms of dozens of children with medically complex conditions are festooned with greeting cards from loved ones and the public.

Charity with dignity
Catholic Health's Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston, N.Y., coordinates a pop-up Christmas Shoppe at the convention center in Niagara Falls, N.Y., where every item is free. It's open to families in poverty who receive care at the hospital-funded Neighborhood Health Center. The center provides health and dental care to people regardless of ability to pay.

About 2,900 articles of clothing will be distributed from the shop to brighten the holidays for about 145 families this year.

Volunteers drop off donations of clothing, towel sets, personal care items and wrapping paper from area parishes, universities and schools, businesses and individuals. They set up the shop, arranging items by category and clothing size. The merchandise is new.

The shop is open for business one day only, this year on Dec. 17. A volunteer designated as a personal shopper guides each person through the shop. Mothers, fathers or those who head households select six gifts of clothing for each child in their family.

They also take home hats and gloves and practical personal care items, such as toilet paper and toiletries that can't be bought with food stamps. Everyone leaves with a Christmas ornament and wrapping paper. There are volunteers on hand to wrap presents too.

The shop's coordinator, Sr. Nora Sweeney, DC, said some people are brought to tears when they see the warm and stylish clothes that they'll be able to give the young members of their households for Christmas.

Ornaments crafted by staff and volunteers with CHRISTUS Spohn Health System will decorate Christmas breakfast trays at the system's six south Texas hospitals.

Shoppers are asked for a $5 donation if they have it to give, which Sr. Sweeney donates to another area nonprofit. Sr. Sweeney said shoppers have the satisfaction of knowing their gift will benefit others.

Christmas cheer on a tray
Volunteers and staff at the six hospitals of CHRISTUS Spohn Health System in south Texas paint and decorate about 600 ornaments. They gather in groups, sometimes painting the wooden disc-shaped ornaments during lunch hours in early December. They paste on a seasonal image, and finish the ornaments with faux jewels, glitter or other shiny accents.

Come Christmas, an ornament bedecks each patient's breakfast tray. Most of the ornaments for 2016 have nativity scenes and wish recipients a Merry Christmas, though the volunteers make some decorated with a seasonal wreath with a Happy Holidays message.

At a cost of about $600, the holiday cheer is budget-friendly, and volunteers raise the money to pay for the ornaments. Patients and their families often light up when they see the ornament on the breakfast tray, and many thank staff and volunteers personally, or send an email when they return home.

Dyan Stephens Brown of Brookyln, N.Y., right, asked family and co-workers in 2014 to send holiday cards to her daughter Dylan McKee, a patient at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers, N.Y. The tradition has grown, with people sending in cards to decorate the rooms of dozens of hospitalized children.

"It's something a little different, something they don't expect," said volunteer Nan Bailey, who helps coordinate the project and crafts ornaments for it. "You don't want to be in the hospital on Christmas Day," and an ornament lets a person know they're "being thought of, like family, at CHRISTUS Spohn," she said.

Donna Stockwell is volunteer services coordinator for CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi – South, and CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Kleberg in Kingsville, Texas. She said the ornament makers "do it because they have heart, love Spohn and love our patients."

Cards of caring
Two Christmases ago, Dyan Stephens Brown of Brooklyn, N.Y., asked her friends and co-workers to send holiday cards to her daughter Dylan McKee, who receives care and therapy at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers, N.Y. The pediatric specialty care facility serves children with complex medical conditions.

Brown decorated Dylan's room with the Christmas cards. Last year, the idea grew with more families asking to receive cards. People sent cards to about a dozen children at Elizabeth Seton whose families expressed interest in receiving them, and staff and volunteers decorated their rooms with them. "We put the cards on a string, and hang them like tinsel around the room," Brown said.

This year, Brown said the families of 48 Elizabeth Seton patients have asked to be part of the Holiday Card Project. Often addressed to individual children, the cards celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Receiving support from others near and far brightens the holidays, and gives a lift to families with children at Elizabeth Seton, she said.

Sportscaster Jack Armstrong, left, and fellow volunteer Rich Minicucci, both of Lewiston, N.Y., help out at the Christmas Shoppe in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Sponsored by Mount St. Mary's Hospital and its Neighborhood Health Center, it invites moms, dads and grand-mothers to shop for clothing and personal items for children.

Art therapist Caroline Mason and therapeutic recreation specialist Vanessa Nunez help coordinate the card project. As word spread, cards started arriving from across the country. You can "see the support and the love shared through this project," Mason said.

Others can join in by sending a card to Holiday Card Project, c/o Ms. Caroline Mason, Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, 300 Corporate Boulevard South, Yonkers, NY, 10701.

Jingle all the way
In Bakersfield, Calif., neonatologist Dr. Sudhir Patel began a holiday tradition in 2006 that has grown into the Jingle Bell Club, a jolly group of employees from Dignity Health's Bakersfield Memorial Hospital and Mercy Southwest Hospital and two other Bakersfield hospitals.

The club hosts a Christmas party for first graders from two elementary schools located in economically struggling neighborhoods. Patel grew up in England. His family didn't have much at the holidays, and he fondly remembers Christmas parties that volunteers hosted for children there, he said. It inspired him to host a party for Bakersfield-area children in need. As word spread, others, including staffers from the four hospitals, joined in with him in a philanthropic collective known as the Jingle Bell Club.

In recent years, an annual golf and martini-themed fundraising dinner at Patel's home called Partini Fore the Kids has supported the Christmas party. About $19,000 was raised this year, said Christina Rudie, a neonatal intensive care unit nurse at Bakersfield Memorial who helps coordinate the Jingle Bell Club fundraiser and party.

This year, about 225 first graders from two schools are invited to the Dec. 21 Jingle Bell Club party. It is being held at an airplane hangar that will be decked out for the event. Santa comes, with a present for each child. Children also receive a new pair of athletic shoes and a Jingle Bell Club sweatshirt.

Those who volunteer for the event say that a small percentage of the children are not accustomed to receiving Christmas presents, because their families can't afford them. "There's such a sense of appreciation, gratefulness, pure joy with these kids," Rudie said. Patel said he feels like the Jingle Bell Club event gives kids "a happy memory to fall back on. You can see how happy they are."


Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.