VA Maryland Health Care System
Perry Point Gift Distribution
Article is courtesy of the Cecil Whig.
Phil "Stinger" Mantik and Rick "Poppy" Warwick, Hogs and Heroes Foundation volunteers, help Felton Johnson and Howard Dennis have a wheelchair race at Perry Point VA Medical Center after holiday gift bag distribution.
PERRY POINT — A long line wrapped around the Perry Point Veterans Affairs Medical Center gym on Christmas Eve morning as more than 120 volunteers gathered to pack gift bags for the center's residents.
The volunteers, who represented organizations such as the Hogs and Heroes Foundation, Marine Corps League and Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary, gathered to pack 260 bags for veterans before splitting into groups to deliver them.
The annual gift bag distribution is a long-standing tradition at Perry Point and something the veterans very much appreciate, said Susan Kern, VA Maryland Health Care System program manager for voluntary services.
"It's the holiday time and no one wants to be in the hospital during the holidays," Kern said. "It's another way to help people who served our country and let them know they're not forgotten and bring them some holiday cheer."
Brandi Sima, voluntary service specialist at Perry Point, said this year's gift distribution was one of the highest volunteer turnouts she's ever seen, noting that many volunteers only stuffed one or two bags before the job was done. Many of the same organizations come out each year and Sima sends out a flyer a few months before Christmas to remind people to save the date. Other than that, news of the event simply spreads through word of mouth.
Cindy Jensen, of Elkton, came to the gift distribution with about 40 other volunteers from Maryland Chapter 3 of Hogs and Heroes, an organization of motorcycle riders that support public safety and U.S. military personnel. The group has been coming to the gift distribution for several years and Jensen said she loves seeing the way the veterans' faces light up when they receive the bags.
"It's Christmas and we love helping the veterans," she said. "We're just glad to be able to help out."
To decide what goes in the gift bags, voluntary service staff from each of the three Maryland VA medical centers meet each year to brainstorm ideas. They also get input from the nurse managers about what veterans might like, Sima said.
This year's bag had toiletries, a blanket bag, a hat, gloves, a scarf, light-up glasses, non-skid socks, a stuffed eagle, a watch and an MP3 player. The MP3 player is a new addition this year and comes pre-loaded with an album by Re-Creation, USA, a group of young people who tour the country putting on variety shows at VA medical centers and veteran nursing homes.
Howard Dennis, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War, said he appreciated the gift and the volunteers who brought it.
"I love it," he said. "I think it's the most beautiful thing in the world."
John Hunter, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, also liked the gift bag. Even though he'll be spending the holidays at Perry Point, he said the nurses are "the best" and activities like the gift bag distribution make the center more festive.
"The staff is so jolly they make you feel like you're at home," he said. "They make it enough that it feels like Christmas."