Adrian Sutherland

How Mental Health Patients Receive Gifts of Light From You

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CAMH Foundation’s Gifts of Light brochure and website show an assortment of much-needed gifts we can purchase for the patients of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: pajamas and slippers, art therapy, winter woollies, emergency kit, coffee gift certificate and more.

Many mental health patients are estranged from their families or their loved ones live out of town so the holidays can be lonely. Receiving a Christmas gift — just as it does for everyone — is fun and exciting and shows someone cares.

The prices vary. A blanket and teddy bear are $80, a manicure is $25, right up to $120 for clothes and client scholarship for $500. One can also make a donation directly to CAMH medical research funds in sums of $50, $100, $200 and $250.

This year CAMH has received requests for close to 2,800 gift bags, Amy Wilkinson, director, community giving at CAMH Foundation tells Samaritanmag. Last year it was 2,220. “By the end of this year, it will mean we have given out over 10,000 gift bags since the program started in 2008. That first year we gave out 600 gifts.”

So how does this actually work? Does CAMH take note of what the purchaser is buying and designate that gift to a patient or does the money go into a big pool?

As it states on all the Gifts of Light marketing materials, including the Holiday Gift Guide that is mailed out, “Gifts made to CAMH Foundation’s Gifts of Light program go towards providing thoughtful gifts and meaningful experiences to CAMH patients. The products, services, and programs described herein are representative of many of the initiatives delivered by the Gifts of Light program.”

“The money essentially goes into a big pool that is entirely earmarked for Gifts of Light activities only,” Wilkinson explains. “The items in the catalogues are totally representative of things the Foundation does provide — PJs, teddy bears, etc… — and in some cases, like research, it has a one for one correlations. You give $500 to the research gift, that goes to research.”

The Gifts of Light activities, Wilkinson mentions, are:

a.      holiday gift bags (each bag contains a whole host of items, for example toiletries, pajamas, fleece blankets, hats/mitts/scarves, puzzle books and playing cards, day planners, slippers, coffee cards and calling cards – each bag is customized for each client)

b.      the Gifts of Light Comfort Fund (grants $100,000 a year to front line staff for projects relating to the care and comfort of their patients – everything from musical instruments so they can start a music group, to bicycles for patient use, to sensory therapy items)

c.       the Gifts of Light Summer BBQ (over 700 clients have attended each of the last two years, along with Blue Jay players, live music, etc.)

d.      Comfort Kits (patients often arrive with nothing, or very little; the comfort kits provide some everyday essentials and a few luxuries to get them started on their recovery on the right foot)

e.      Client Holiday Parties (one all-client holiday party with usually 250 clients in attendance – dancing, food, entertainment; then individual program and unit parties; all throughout the month of December)

f.       Various funding of programs that correlate with items shown in the catalogue that don’t get covered above: eg. we grant funds to the Client Learning Fund which doles out scholarships to clients, support our volunteer services programs (which in turn support things like the manicures), the Suits Me Fine Boutique (that provides the clothing), the Sunshine garden, etc., etc.

How do they determine who would get $500 scholarship vs. $120 of clothes?

“We work with front line staff to determine what goes in each client’s gift bag,” Wilkinson says. “For the scholarship, the hospital that has a committee that reviews applications and doles out various scholarships of various size based on certain requirements.

“All patients have access to the Suits Me Fine Boutique and clothing there. For the Comfort Fund, front-line staff submit applications for individual grants of up to $5,000 and there is a committee of their peers at the hospital that determines who is successful. The goal across the board is to have those who work with our clients (our hospital colleagues) really drive how the money is used and who receives what.

“In our case, when it comes to the gifts, we work with the front line staff and clients to make sure that what they are getting, from the items represented in the catalogue, best suit their needs and will make the most impact on their care and comfort, which after all, is the whole point of the program.

“Many of our patients receive few, if any visitors and we have no gift shop,” she adds. “Not to mention, many are under employed and under housed so some of these items are incredible luxuries and quite precious to them. Just today I saw a patient on campus walking around in a scarf we gave out two years ago.”

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Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.