Gifts set for Oregon State Hospital patients

From the Salem Statesman Journal, December 24 2008

Volunteers wrap donated presents, to be delivered on Christmas Day

Santa’s workshop runs on magic, but the gift-giving program at the Oregon State Hospital may operate with something just as good — efficiency.

“It’s a huge assembly line,” said Jeff Jessel, the director of volunteer services at the state hospital, as he double-checked the last of nearly 800 gifts wrapped and ready.

Arthur Tolan, a clinical director at Oregon State Hospital, finishes wrapping a package for the Caring Tree Project. Tolan volunteers for the gift-giving program at the state hospital, in which a patient's request for gifts is matched by donors in the community.

Arthur Tolan, a clinical director at Oregon State Hospital, finishes wrapping a package for the Caring Tree Project. Tolan volunteers for the gift-giving program at the state hospital, in which a patient's request for gifts is matched by donors in the community.

The gifts will be delivered Christmas Day to state hospital patients.

The operation is known as the Caring Tree Project, which has been an annual state hospital event since 1985. Each patient submits a wish list, and program coordinators work to match at least two to three gifts from that list — anywhere in value from $20 to $30 total.

The call then goes out to participating state agencies and community groups, which are given the wish lists and asked to provide donated gifts.

Despite a downturn in the economy, all of the patients’ requests for gifts were filled, Jessel said. The program also receives monetary donations, which go toward purchasing extra gifts for newly-admitted patients or exchanges.

More recently, the capricious winter weather has not kept volunteers away, Jessel said.

Since Dec. 1, the Caring Tree workshop has remained open every day and has run smoothly — and was even ahead of schedule Tuesday.

Many volunteers were state hospital employees who dropped by during breaks to wrap gifts.

Wendell Page, an education department trainer, was wrapping packages this year, but has witnessed the receiving end of gifts working in wards in past years. Page summed up those past Christmas mornings as “very busy, very hectic, very rewarding.”

State hospital outdoors coordinator Todd Trautner, otherwise dubbed “assistant elf,” prepared to deliver about 100 gifts to the Portland state hospital campus in a van Tuesday afternoon.

For the rest of the approximately 650 residents at the Salem facility, staffers will load carts with presents and deliver them through the underground tunnels of the state hospital.

“It’s just like loading up Santa’s sleigh,” Jessel said.

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