Simple Gift Holiday Tree Program benefits those in need

Two and half years after suffering a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side of his body and unable to speak clearly, Greg Cross recently took a big step toward regaining his independence. The 37-year old Lansing resident moved into a duplex, where he and his father will reside until the younger Cross has regained enough of his muscle strength and motor skills to live on his own.

“He is really excited,” said Glenda Cross, Greg’s mother and director of Patient Care Services at McLaren Greater Lansing. “He is so happy to be more independent and able to do more things for himself.”

Greg owned a bed, dresser, sofa, and end tables as he prepared for his move. But he was short of household items such as dishes, pots and pans, silverware, glasses, coffee mugs, dish towels, linens, cleaning supplies, blankets, and pillows. Melissa DeCapita, administrative coordinator in Patient Care Services, knew of Greg’s situation. So when it came time for her and her department colleagues, along with their counterparts in Clinical Education, to name a beneficiary for the 8thannual Simple Gift Holiday Tree Program at McLaren Greater Lansing, he was a popular choice.

“He’s starting over,” DeCapita said about Greg. “And we want to help him do that.”

The Simple Gift Holiday Tree Program is administered by the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation’s WeCare Committee and gives hospital employees an opportunity to help those in need during the holiday season. Each department or group of departments that participates in the program is issued a three-foot tall tree that is decorated in a theme of their choosing. They also name an organization, or a family or individual in need as a designated beneficiary before contributing gifts to go with the tree.

“We like to do something at this time of year,” DeCapita said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get organized because everyone is so busy, but in the end we always seem to come together and work together.”

Glenda Cross said she and Greg were “so grateful and appreciative of everything” hospital employees had done for him as he embarked on a new chapter in his life.

“We’re hopeful he will be able to live on his own at some point,” she said. “It could take some time before that happens, but this is a first step.”

Overall, employees from McLaren Greater Lansing, McLaren Orthopedic Hospital, and Mid-Michigan Physicians displayed 31 trees for the Simple Gift Holiday Tree Program.

Organizations, such as Angel House, Capital Area Humane Society, Capital Area Literacy Coalition, Helping Hands Respite Care, Operation Santa, Pregnancy Services, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, and Toys for Tots, were most frequently chosen as beneficiaries. But Environmental Services designated a disabled Marine Corps veteran and his family as its beneficiary, and Maintenance & Engineering, Switchboard, and Patient Experience worked through a local Be a Santa for a Senior program to contribute gifts to 15 elderly people who might not otherwise have received presents  during the holiday season.

Theresa Gale, administrative assistant in Environmental Services, said the department’s employees came up with the idea of supporting a veteran because many of them have family members who served in the military.

The late grandfather of Deondre Allen was an Air Force veteran, and the environmental technician also has four uncles who are vets. One of them served in the Army for 25 years before retiring in 2013. Another suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Allen said helping a veteran and his family was “close to home” for him and his colleagues, and something they were “passionate” about.

“It’s nice to know we can give back to them,” he said. “They gave to us with their service and now we can give to them.”

Gifts for the 29-year old local veteran and his family were plentiful. They included woodworking tools for him, housewares for his wife, dolls for their 10-year old daughter, and a bicycle for their five-year old son. Legos and Matchbox cars were also among the gifts, along with a drone, because as Allen said, “Who doesn’t want a drone?”

After learning of the wants and needs of their senior citizen beneficiaries, employees from Maintenance & Engineering, Switchboard, and Patient Relations bought and wrapped items such as gift cards, blankets, sheets, towels, and pajamas, along with a coffee maker and a radio.

Michelle Dumaw, manager in Patient Relations, said she has always had a soft spot for grandparents, and it was important that she and her colleagues “care for those who might not be spending time with family this holiday season.”

Mary Zippi, a patient experience representative, also pointed out that “adults are children at heart” who “like to get presents too.”

Dumaw is particularly fond of the Simple Gift Holiday Tree Program because it gives employees at McLaren Greater Lansing the opportunity to do something positive for people outside of the health care setting.

“We do a lot of things for our community inside of the hospital,” she said. “But this program gives us a chance to do something for the community outside of it.”

Photos of trees from the Simple Gift Holiday Tree Program can be found on the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation’s Facebook page.