Dec. 28, 2011
Naval Hospital Beaufort Sailors Spread Holiday Cheer to Local Children
Sailors from Naval Hospital Beaufort helped spread holiday cheer to hundreds of local children last week by volunteering with two Beaufort area organizations to provide presents and stockings to the youngsters. Both HELP of Beaufort, an organization that provides food, clothing, and financial assistance to local families and individuals in need, and Praise Assembly of God, a local church, had their charitable events spearheaded by local Sailors, making Christmas possible for many children in the community.
“I am proud that Sailors from Naval Hospital Beaufort understand the true meaning of this season and that thanks to their selfless efforts many children had a brighter holiday season,” said Captain Joan Queen, commanding officer. “Our hospital and staff are very much a part of the local community and the efforts of these Sailors show how much they genuinely care about this community.”
Hospital Corpsman First Class Donna Patrick, who works at Branch Health Clinic (BHC) Parris Island, coordinated one gift-giving program with HELP of Beaufort. According to Patrick, she and Steve Curless, a retired Marine and president of HELP Beaufort, started this project four years ago when they saw a need. In their first year, they adopted 18 children and every year since, their numbers have grown. This year, they gave presents to 60 children.
Patrick and Curless typically fundraise to collect money to purchase the gifts, both volunteering their talents as DJs to raise money. Now, however, Patrick says that people have come to know the organization and simply donate directly.
“One of my friends even asked guests attending his Christmas party to bring donations instead of a side dish,” said Patrick.
Patrick does most of the shopping herself starting on Black Friday to ensure that she gets some great deals to make those donations stretch as far as possible. This year, she was able to purchase 500 presents, which ensured that each child received 7-10 presents, which included games, footballs, dolls, cars, bikes, and more.
Of course, that many presents required a little assistance to ensure that everything was ready for the children by Christmas. With a little help from about 45 volunteer Sailors at BHC Parris Island, most of the gifts were wrapped and all the stockings stuffed over a two day period. In their off-duty time, in the large open area of the clinic where new Marine recruits typically stand in formation awaiting their initial medical screenings, Sailors spent a total of six hours, using over 30 rolls of wrapping paper, to wrap presents and stuff stockings. Once the presents and stockings were ready, Patrick delivered them herself from Dec. 20 through Christmas Eve.
“Christmas is the one time a year when everyone finds common ground and is just a little bit nicer and more helpful to one another,” said Patrick. “No child should have to wake up Christmas morning with nothing to open. I know we can't help everyone, but it feels really good to be able to make a difference in some lives.”
Many of the children adopted by Patrick and HELP Beaufort were part of the 360 children who benefited from a holiday event at Praise Assembly of God, Dec. 21. Lt. William Ruppel, department head for security at the naval hospital, along with friends and family organized the church’s large-scale gift-giving event to include coordinating volunteers, finding donors to sponsor individual children, shopping, and wrapping presents.
Last Wednesday, the church hosted a cookout for the children and their families, providing bounce houses and lunch as presents were handed out. Helping Ruppel was fellow Sailor, Chief Hospital Corpsman Amanda Hughes, who works at BHC Parris Island. Not only did Hughes help coordinate the cookout, she connected Patrick with the church, letting her know about the opportunity to help even more children have a happy holiday.
Ruppel said the event grew out of the church’s weekly food outreach program, which provides a meal and bag of groceries to those in need every Wednesday. Last year, they were able to provide Christmas presents to 150 children, but word spread and this year, over 360 children received gifts.
“There was one particular little boy who made my day,” said Ruppel. “When my son rode out a bike for him, he broke out in a huge grin that didn’t quit. He couldn’t believe it was for him. It’s a joy to see these kids receiving a present they might not have received otherwise. That’s really what it’s all about.”
Open since 1949, Naval Hospital Beaufort provides general medical, surgical, and emergency services to all active duty personnel, as well as retired military and family members residing in the Beaufort area, a total population of approximately 45,000 beneficiaries.