sTK - Christmas Gift on festive background

Last week, I had the privilege of working with a group of individuals collecting and distributing approximately 100 meals to families for Thanksgiving. What caught my attention more than just trying to meet the needs of these families, was the overwhelming sense of giving that was all around me. Despite the fact that we had collected more than enough food and help to complete our project, people all around me were asking “what can I do?”

This was just more evidence to me that we really do live in a community that cares about its neighbors and even strangers who are in need. I am sure the spirit of giving was heightened by the fact that this is the season of giving and there is definitely something about Thanksgiving and Christmas that increases our desire to be more charitable.

Two years ago, I introduced an organization coordinated by Cami Roundy with Volunteer Services at the Utah State Hospital that is aptly named the Forgotten Patient Christmas Project.

This project originated around the time the hospital did in 1885. Originally, businesses would donate oranges and put them in sacks to donate. In the 1950s, volunteers known as the “grey ladies” put a little more organization into it and it was named the Forgotten Patient Christmas Project, and donations from businesses were put into individual sacks and given to the patients. By the 1970s it evolved to the project it is today where businesses, individuals and families sponsor patients at the hospital and provide gifts for them.

Patients at the Utah State Hospital, approximately 320 currently, come from all around the state and are dealing with some form of mental illness. The average length of stay is eight-and-a-half months but some have been there for more than 15 years. Since mental illness does not discriminate against genders, there is a combination of both male and female patients as young as 6 years old and as old as 86. According to Shawna Peterson, who was spearheading the project in 2017, “the majority of the patients have little or no contact with families so for them, the holidays come and go.” Many of them start thinking about the Christmas project as early as July.

Names of patients can be obtained by emailing Cami Roundy at camiroundy@utah.gov. Even though the program has grown and is supported by some businesses and individuals, there is always room for more. Roundy confirmed that “although there has been a lot of support this year, we still have more patients who could use a gift.”

Upon receiving an email from a potential sponsor, an information sheet about the person they will be purchasing for will be sent. The actual identify of the person will be protected but important facts such as clothing sizes, hobbies, interests, favorite candy and requests will be included. Also included will be a list of things that are not allowed. Because Dec. 13 is the target date to have all gifts returned now is a good time to email and become a sponsor. Cash donations are also welcome. For these patients, the signed cards with kind words that are included may be as meaningful as the gifts themselves. They want to know that there is someone out there who cares about them.

As an adult I clearly remember as a child a Christmas morning when Santa wouldn’t have found his way to my house if it weren’t for the generosity of neighbors. Because of this, I understand the feeling of opening a gift with wonderment and a new found belief in miracles. If not the Forgotten Patient Project, I encourage each of you to find one way to share the season with someone in need and keep the status of Utah’s generosity alive and well.

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