Heartwarming gifts bring joy to cancer patients this holiday season

The season of giving and the desire to bring joy to cancer patients prompted students at two schools to get busy and get creative!

Students at St. George’s in Westmount gathered in their school’s kitchen to bake cookies and create hand-written cards with inspirational messages which they attached to each wrapped package of cookies. The students perform community service throughout the year for Hope & Cope’s meal program – also known as Kerry’s Kitchen – which provides home-cooked, nutritious meals for parents to take home when they are too exhausted to cook after a long day of treatment. The cookies and other treats also were distributed by Hope & Cope volunteers to grateful patients in the cancer clinics at the Jewish General Hospital.

Meanwhile, over at École Saint-Rémi in Beaconsfield, Mme Laila Tabbah’s Grade 6 class was busy creating food jars filled with ingredients to make hot chocolate and cookies. The children’s favourite recipes were printed on gift tags and attached to each jar with a bow. The teacher cleverly integrated the project with math lessons as the children carefully measured the ingredients and calculated fractions. Student Xavier Leggett, whose mother, Danielle Leggett, is Executive Director of Hope & Cope, gave a brief presentation to his class about Hope & Cope’s mission of helping people cope with cancer. Mme Tabbah’s father-in-law, who heard about the project, got in on the act as well, by making and donating vegan soaps.

The gifts from École Saint-Rémi were incorporated into Hope & Cope’s Palliative Care Gift-Giving Program, which takes place from December 3rd to December 25th inclusive. This meaningful and heartwarming program runs entirely on donations – anything from soaps, candles and toys to mittens, hats and kitchen gadgets. The collected gifts are piled high in Hope & Cope’s small office on the Palliative Care Unit at the Jewish General Hospital.

Every day throughout the month of December, volunteers load a trolley filled with a wide variety of gifts and visit patients’ rooms, offering them the opportunity to select presents for their loved ones. Once the selections have been made and recorded, the volunteers wrap up the gifts and return them to the patients, who decide when to present the gifts.

“The first question patients ask is always, ‘How much?’. They are surprised and touched that the gifts are free,” notes Jeannette Singerman, who has been a volunteer on the Palliative Care team for 10 years.

“Patients can’t get out anymore, so they are thrilled to be able to choose the perfect gifts for their family,” adds Roz Brawer, who recently joint the team of 30 active volunteers. The families are equally touched and cherish these gifts. To show appreciation for the staff on the unit, nurses and beneficiary attendants are welcome to choose gifts for themselves or their children’s teachers as well.

As Hope & Cope Coordinator for Palliative Care, Rifka Hanfling explains, “This program allows patients who are at the end of life to experience the joy of the holidays, not just by receiving, but also by giving. It can be therapeutic because patients feel a sense of control and autonomy when choosing the gifts and the wrapping paper.”

According to Mrs. Hanfling, because the volunteers are not part of the medical team, they are able to establish relationships with patients and their families on a personal level. “As hard as it is to work in Palliative Care, it is so rewarding to be able to offer a caring and calming presence to patients and their families,” she concludes.

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