MENASHA — A young patient at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute (WMHI) needed a size 13 pair of shoes. Volunteer coordinator Linda Schueler dipped into her department’s fund and purchased shoes.
“When I gave them to him, he just stared at them. Finally, he said he couldn’t remember the last time he had gotten a new pair of shoes,” Schueler said. “The look on his face. There was such appreciation for such a simple thing.”
Those stories can be repeated often at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute, 1300 South Drive, Oshkosh, thanks to people like the parishioners at St. Patrick Parish in Menasha.
“The folks at St. Pat’s definitely go above and beyond for this program,” Schueler said.
Every year for the past 11 years, pastoral leader Mary Krueger organizes a Christmas project where parishioners donate items for patients at the WMHI. In November, Krueger puts a list in the parish bulletin requesting holiday gifts and treats for all the patients.
The list includes such essentials as socks, chocolate, shampoo, phone cards, deodorant, gift cards, wallets, postage stamps, journals, toothbrushes, toothpaste, gloves and hats.
Items are collected in the boxes in the parish center or gathering area by Dec. 1, when volunteers wrap them for delivery to the state psychiatric hospital.
The WMHI specializes in serving children and adults with complex psychiatric conditions that are often combined with challenging behaviors. There are both in-patients and out-patients.
Schueler compiles the list based on patients’ Christmas lists. “I send out a solicitation letter to area churches and clubs, and others on our mailing list.” She includes the list of items requested.
St. Patrick congregation has been a good friend to the WMHI patients for “11 or more years,” according to Krueger.
Years ago, “I looked around to see who would need our help,” Krueger said. “I thought of the Winnebago Mental Health Institute. This is a population who are not often thought of. They are a forgotten population when it comes to Christmas presents.”
“It’s a project everyone can participate in. Some of the items are not very expensive,” she added.
Schueler and her volunteers coordinate the project so everyone at the institute gets a Christmas gift. “Our census is right around 185. Thirty of these can be children.
“Units with high turnover get generic items,” she said. This way everyone gets something even if they weren’t there when the list was compiled. Long-term patients get to pick what they want and get an individualized gift.
Donors who want to give cash rather than shop for items can make out checks to “Special Events Trust Fund,” Schueler and Krueger said. This is used for Christmas items and special activities throughout the year.
Schueler and her staff and volunteers also make sure all patients get birthday presents. Her Christmas donors are very generous, so there are enough gifts for birthdays, too.
“Any patient coming in for treatment gets a birthday gift,” she said. “In some cases, they may not have gotten a birthday gift in many years. The look on their faces is simply priceless.”
She also uses the gifts as prizes for other programs or as incentives and rewards during the year.