By LISA EISENHAUER
Betsy Garin says it made her happy to be among a group of volunteers assembling colorful goody bags to give away at Easter.
Garin and her neighbors at Marguerite's House in Lawrence, Massachusetts, filled the bags with candy, tissues, toothpaste and a brush, a box of macaroni and cheese and other goods. Residents of the Mary Immaculate Nursing/Restorative Center, a skilled
nursing facility on the same campus as Marguerite's House, staffed their own gift bag assembly line. The residents together prepared about 50 Easter bags for a giveaway through a nonprofit organization.
"It's helping, and that is what I like to do," says Garin, who also took part in a mid-April work session to fill gift bags for Mother's Day.
Marguerite's House and Mary Immaculate Nursing/Restorative Center are part of Mary Immaculate Health/Care Services. The continuum-of-care campus is part of Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based
The gift bags were the first product of a yearlong volunteer program at Mary Immaculate Health/Care Services called Project Warm Embrace. The community got a one-year, $10,000
award from the St. Marguerite d'Youville Grant Fund for the project. The fund is an endowment of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, or Grey Nuns, who founded Covenant Health.
A Grey Nun was one of the founders of Lazarus House Ministries in Lawrence. The nonprofit gave out the Easter bags and Mary Immaculate Health/Care Services planned to send
it the Mother's Day bags for distribution at a women's shelter.
Garin has lived comfortably at Marguerite's House assisted living residence for six years. "I get help with everything I do and need," she says. She's aware that Lawrence has many residents who are struggling.
The U.S. Census Bureau says about one-fifth of Lawrence's population of about 90,000 lives below the poverty line.
Garin is a lifelong Catholic whose family parish, St. Mary of the Assumption, is nearby. She still calls herself "a St. Mary's girl." She says she'd been active in the parish's community efforts and is heartened to have volunteer opportunities at Mary
She also is grateful to have a meaningful social outlet. "It's very important, just being able to get together with other residents and do things," Garin says.
Adrienne Cullen, Mary Immaculate Health/Care Services's director of mission integration, is the mentor for Project Warm Embrace. Cullen says the goal of the project is to lift the spirits of the residents along with those of people in need in the community.
"It's important for our residents to feel like they can help others as opposed to only being helped," she says.
Gifts and a prayer
The Easter bag work sessions drew about 20 volunteers from the assisted living side and 20 from the nursing care side. Cullen says some of the volunteers were people she hadn't seen at other less-interactive
gatherings such as when entertainers perform.
She suspects that, like Garin, many of the Project Warm Embrace volunteers had been active in church and community work for most of their lives and welcome opportunities to serve others.
In addition to assembling bags, the Mary Immaculate Health/Care Services volunteers had the option of tying thin strips of fleece together to create blankets. The four blankets
they made at the first work sessions also went to Lazarus House Ministries, which provides food and clothing to those in need in Lawrence.
The goodies in the Mother's Day bags included body wash, a scrub sponge, facial tissues, candles and a prayer card with a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A resident suggested the prayer card and image as a way to connect with the growing Hispanic
population in Lawrence. Some of the prayer cards are in Spanish. Like the Easter bags, each of the Mother's Day bags had a note tucked inside letting the recipient know that the gift came from Mary Immaculate Health/Care Services residents.
After the bag-filling and blanket-making gatherings, Cullen says she and the others who are coordinating Project Warm Embrace — including Chaplain Beth Fullerton and the Mary Immaculate activities
staff — served the volunteers refreshments and hosted a chat about what the next project should be. Among the ideas for upcoming giveaways is a beach pail for summer with sunscreen, bug spray and other seasonally appropriate items. An idea
for fall is a backpack with school supplies.
Cullen proposed Project Warm Embrace after hearing about how engaged residents had been in a sandwich-making volunteer project years ago. That project also had been bankrolled by the St. Marguerite d'Youville Grant Fund. Cullen found that it couldn't
be duplicated under the fund's rules, so she and her colleagues came up with Project Warm Embrace.
When Project Warm Embrace sunsets after a year, Cullen hopes to be ready with another project to tap into residents' altruistic spirit. She wants the next volunteer initiative to have the same flair and to stand out from the much appreciated but more
routine food and coat drives that Mary Immaculate staff and residents undertake.
"I want this to kind of be something a little bit extra and fun for the people of the community to receive," Cullen says.
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