Since 1986, every patient at Oregon State Hospital has received a gift during the holidays. This year, that’s 689 patients, and hospital volunteers are at the heart of the months-long process.
OSH’s Volunteer Services team coordinates the Caring Tree program, which begins in the summer when hospital staff identify items that patients can choose from to create their own wish lists. Gifts range from games and snacks, such as trail mix and word puzzles, to clothing, blankets and DVDs.
By early fall, the volunteer team reaches out to donors and volunteers to gather the gifts.
In December, it’s time to start wrapping.
The elves who make it all happen are not just OSH employees and regular volunteers. Many other state agencies are longtime participants, as well as hospital retirees and volunteers from community churches and other organizations.
“It is really overwhelming to see the support for our patients,” said Ryan Stafford, OSH Volunteer Services director. “This is a way for the community to connect with the work we do here and help patients feel supported in their recovery.”
“About 500 volunteer hours go into planning, sorting, wrapping and delivering the gifts,” said Marilyn Nichols, OSH Volunteer Services coordinator. Nichols retired from OSH in April 2022 but returned to help with the Caring Tree program.
And then there are the Christmas trees! OSH staff help patients create handmade paper ornaments to decorate the 24 live trees that were delivered to units earlier this week. OSH purchased the trees last year and have since been nurturing them in the hospital’s on-site greenhouse in Salem.
“It tugged at my heart to come back and help,” Nichols said. “This is the hardest time of the year for our patients – for anybody, really – to be alone. It brings me joy when I’ll leave work this week, and I’ll see all the gifts packed up and ready to be distributed. Seeing that, and knowing that everybody’s going to get a gift – that’s the best part.”