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Patients awake to gifts hand-delivered by nursing staff

Story by Jennifer Vanderlaan | Photo by Filomena Laporte-Packer

Handmade stockings filled with gifts — donated by community volunteers and presented by nursing staff — brightened the day for patients at Chinook Regional Hospital this Christmas.

Thanks to a handful of volunteers, the annual Operation Christmas Stocking once again spread abundant cheer to patients at Chinook Regional Hospital (CRH) on Christmas morning.

In all, 588 one-of-a-kind handmade stockings, generously donated by community volunteers, were stuffed full of goodies and presented to patients seeking treatment at the hospital as well as those on overnight stays.

The project was sponsored by Friends of Chinook Regional Hospital, a volunteer-led organization that operates the gift shop at the hospital. Gifts that Friends donated for the stockings included everyday items a patient might need during their stay, such as a toothbrush, comb and lotion, as well as a game or a stuffed toy for the kids.

“The messages we receive from the patients are those of gratitude,” says Filomena Laporte-Packer, volunteer resources coordinator at CRH. “They’re happy to know that the community thinks about them, even though they don’t know who they are.”

Each stocking also contained a colorful ‘Letter of Hope,’ handwritten by a local elementary student, to pass along good cheer and messages of support.

“The kids write little poems, songs and even jokes,” says Laporte-Packer. “The letters are about kindness and hope — and they really resonate with the patients.”

In previous years, more than 100 volunteers would come together during the holiday season to see this initiative through. However, due to physical-distancing restrictions, five volunteers took on the big job this year, two of whom stuffed all 588 stockings.

Laurie and Victor Colussi, a married couple from Lethbridge and experienced stocking-stuffer volunteers of Christmases past, didn’t hesitate when asked to be a part of Operation Christmas Stocking 2020.

“This year, people in the hospital are more on their own being that we are in a global pandemic,” says Laurie. “This is a little something that we can do to bring them a bit of joy.”

It took three days for the Colussis to stuff all the stockings, who completed the grand task three weeks before Christmas.

“We missed the noise of all the volunteers, but we played Christmas music so it felt like everyone was here,” says Laurie.

Nursing staff who worked the night shift on Christmas Eve delivered the stockings to their patients’ bedsides.

Victor adds: “Operation Christmas Stocking is a great reminder of what’s possible when the community comes together.”