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St. Joseph's Hospital reaches out to help less-fortunate families

NASHUA -- Tradition was a powerful force this week as hundreds of employees at St. Joseph Hospital donated their time and money to help less-fortunate families.

Seventy families were selected as recipients of the 53rd annual Christmas Basket Project - a program that helps underprivileged families receive much-needed food, clothing and gifts.

"This is ridiculously wonderful," said Jen of Nashua, one of the beneficiaries of the program.

Jen, who would only give her first name, is currently employed at St. Joe's, but she said the hours are not as much as she would like. With three boys to feed and clothe, including a younger son who is autistic and diagnosed with epilepsy, Jen said it can be challenging to make ends meet. She is incredibly grateful for the assistance.

"My kids will be so excited. They will think it is from Santa," she said, adding there is definitely less pressure on her because of the generosity of co-workers.

The recipients are often incredibly humble, according to Jan Degulis, one of the organizers of the program. Most of the parents don't make any requests for themselves, instead asking for coats, hats, mittens and other winter necessities for their children, said Degulis.

On Wednesday, the Carl Amelio Room at the hospital was filled with boxes wrapped with groceries, fresh fruit, socks, toys and clothes for the 70 families that were recommended by local school nurses, parishes and social service agencies.

"Not everybody is as fortunate this year, so it is nice to help out in whatever way we can," said Kathie Rice-Orshak, vice president of mission integration and ethics for the hospital. "The generosity of this organization is second to none."

Kid-sized tricycles and mountain bikes were among some of the gifts donated by hospital employees. Each family will also receive a frozen turkey and all the fixings for a special Christmas dinner, according to organizers.

"More often than not, every family gets what is on their wish list - and then some," said Sheila McLaughlin, one of the chairpersons for the 2012 Christmas Basket Project.

The project, led by employees such as Frank Whipple and others, extends hospital care beyond the physical walls of the medical building, organizers said. When the hospital was founded in 1908 by the Grey Nuns, its mission was to provide compassionate care that contributes to the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of the entire community, according to a release, adding the holiday project helps continue that tradition in the 21st century.

It was spearheaded in 1959 by alumnae of the St. Joseph School of Nursing, but has since expanded to include every department at the hospital. Following a Blessing of the Baskets this morning, all of the gifts and food will be delivered to needy families throughout Nashua, Manchester, Merrimack and Hudson.

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Kimberly Houghton may be reached at khoughton@newstote.com.


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