Traditions are part of the holidays, and no tradition signifies the holiday season at Oregon State Hospital more than the annual Caring Tree.
"The caring tree is one of the most positive projects on campus," said Jane Kaser, a vocational rehabilitation counselor at OSH. "The holiday season can be especially difficult for OSH residents, and it provides joy to most of our residents and shows them that there are still people who care."
For the past 26 years, OSH's Volunteer Services staff have headed up the Caring Tree project to provide a holiday gift for each of the hospital's patients. The centerpieces of the project are the trees themselves, which are decorated with colorful gift tags, each specifically created for one patient.
In early November, patients are given a gift request form that has a wide range of items — such as DVDs, clothing, blankets and stuffed animals — from which to choose their potential gift. After they make their selections, a gift tag listing their top two choices, gender and age range is created for each patient. The tags are then hung from the Caring Tree and can be pulled by anyone, whether or not they're affiliated with OSH, who wishes to purchase a gift for an anonymous patient.
Additional gift tags are also mailed out by request to other state agencies and organizations throughout the Willamette Valley, allowing people from around the state to participate. Most years, it's common for the hospital to receive more than 700 holiday gifts for its patients.
Over the years, hundreds of people such as Kaser have volunteered their time and energy to make the project such a success. Each year, from late November through December, teams of volunteers work around the clock, building more than a thousand gift and transport boxes, creating gift tags, processing, organizing and wrapping the gifts, and, finally, hand-delivering the gifts to the patient units.
"It really is amazing the number of people who come together each year to ensure that every patient will have a personal gift to unwrap and enjoy," said Volunteer Services Director and Caring Tree Project Coordinator Jeff Jessel.
And when he says every patient, he means it. Right up until delivery day, Jessel and his volunteers seek out any newly admitted patients to get their wish list and make sure no one is left empty-handed over the holidays.
"It really is our goal that everyone receives something, and that's why I love this project," Jessel said. "It's filled with good joy and good spirit, and it lets the patients know we care about them. I've never seen anything else quite like it, and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
If you would like to volunteer or find out more information about the OSH Caring Tree Project, please contact Jeff Jessel at 503-945-2892.