January 11, 2024
Shirley Wilkinson, left, Laurie Colussi and Ruth Gronemeyer stuff stockings for patients at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge. Photo by Kelly Morris.
Wendy Bushell and her friends in the Lethbridge Centennial Quilters Guild donated more than 650 handmade stockings. Photo by Kelly Morris.
Story & photos by Kelly Morris
LETHBRIDGE — In late December of 2014, our ‘Christmas baby’ was born, requiring a short stay in the NICU, and we spent our first Christmas as a family of three at Chinook Regional Hospital.
Waking up in a hospital bed on Christmas morning can feel lonely and disappointing. It was certainly not how we imagined sharing our first major holiday with our little one. Yet, that Christmas morning, when we arrived at Maxwell’s bassinet, there sat his first stocking. It was a handmade stocking, dark green with a gold horn, embroidered and stuffed to the brim with gifts for our new baby.
Crying happy tears, that stocking made me feel like Christmas — and imprinted as the best memory of my son’s first Christmas. That stocking allowed us to celebrate during a scary time. That stocking, nine years later, is still hung with joy and gratitude each Christmas.
It was with great appreciation that I arrived at CRH right before last year’s holiday season to a room full of volunteers, eagerly stuffing more than 650 handmade stockings in anticipation of their delivery to patients. Some stockings were delivered early, to patients that are in treatment at the hospital but are well enough to be home on Christmas day, while the majority arrived overnight and into the early morning of Dec. 25.
The stockings are a community effort.
Funding and purchasing of the gifts is supported by Friends of Chinook Regional Hospital, the volunteer-led organization that operates the CRH gift shop and TV/phone program, with all proceeds from their operations benefiting patient care and programs.
“We support the Christmas stocking initiative because it is so impactful to each and every patient that is here at Christmas time,” says Daniel Erickson, Friends of Chinook Regional Hospital Executive Director. “We hope that these stockings give patients a glimmer of hope and happiness.”
Volunteer Resources facilitates the creation and distribution of the stockings, with stockings handcrafted by quilters across the city, and volunteers coming together to fill them with goodies.
“I’m a member of the Lethbridge Centennial Quilters Guild, so every year I stand up and ask these wonderful ladies if they would help me make stockings,” says volunteer Wendy Bushell.
“This year, they have exceeded themselves. The Guild alone put in well over 600 stockings. There’s also support within the community — a lady’s group at Grandview Village, the seniors’ apartments; ladies that quilt and sew at the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization, and other craft-at-home volunteers — who give us stockings as well. It’s really a community effort.”
Stockings are filled with items for self-care and comfort — toothbrush, hairbrush, crossword puzzles, lotion and more. Stockings for children and infants have additional items for the hospital’s smallest patients.
Laurie Colussi and her husband have assisted with the shopping for the infant stockings for the past few years. While Friends of Chinook Regional Hospital purchases the items for the adult stockings, specialized items are required for babies, which Colussi is thrilled to shop for.
“(Items include) baby hoodies for baths, and wash cloths and wipes. We have little, tiny booties and soft gloves,” says Colussi with a smile. “It was fun. I enjoyed it more, I think, doing the shopping than the stuffing.”
Stockings also include a handwritten note of support filled with drawings and words of encouragement, created by students from Dr. Robert Plaxton Elementary School, St. Patrick Fine Arts Elementary School, Galbraith Elementary School, Mike Mountain Horse Elementary School, and community members through the Rotaract Club at the University of Lethbridge.
Much like I continue to share my own stocking story each year, hundreds of former patients have similar stories of the impact that these thoughtful and memorable Christmas gifts have had on them.
“This project reaches so many people and lifts everyone’s spirits,” says Erickson. "Stories of people receiving stockings during the holidays are heard for years to come. It’s a wonderful project that I look forward to each year.”