The spirit of giving is strong at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

Carts filled with presents were wheeled out of the South Entrance and into vehicles waiting to take them to children and Veterans alike. The gifts are the result of a pair of outreach programs.

Employees in the hospital’s Logistics Department provided a bounty of gifts for 55 children served by Children’s Wisconsin’s Community Services Division.

Meanwhile, presents purchased via an annual giving tree organized by recreational therapist Sara LeClaire and the City of West Allis were bound for Veterans in the Community Living Centers, Palliative Care Unit and the Community Homes.

Gifts for children

“This is such a wonderful giving opportunity for us,” said Stacey Snyder, program support assistant in Logistics and chairwoman of the annual Children’s event. “During these times, when things feel a little grim, this is an opportunity to know every kid will get a gift.”

Volunteers load donated gifts into a car.

Like a traditional giving tree, Children’s provides names and ages of the children, along with a short list of items they desire. Employees then choose a child (or children) and purchases the gifts.

The children are typically involved in foster care, child and family counseling, child abuse prevention programs and special needs adoptions. Most live in poverty and have had “difficult and challenging” life experiences according to Children’s.

This is the fourth year for the outreach, which has grown to the point where Children’s runs out of names to provide to Snyder and her crew.

“Our motto is no one is left behind,” she said. “It’s become bigger and bigger. We have more people wanting to buy than there are kids.”

Snyder noted that one employee, who wants to remain anonymous, makes the event a family affair, selecting 11 children this year and involving his brothers, sisters and extended family.

Some employees write personal notes to the children.

“This creates a connection between us and the community,” Snyder said, noting that some employees grew up served by Children’s Community Services and are eager to give back. “There are some tears involved. This brings up a lot of memories for people.”

“This is wonderful,” said Sondra Russell, a social worker at Children’s after receiving the gifts Monday. “They’re very generous, and we’re very thankful.

“Our families will be very thankful as well,” added Children’s social worker Tanya Edwards. “Resources are limited for our families, so this is amazing.”

Gifts for Vets

Some employees wrote personal notes to accompany the gifts for children.

While Snyder and her crew loaded up gifts for Children’s, LeClaire and recreation therapy assistant Francheska Wallace were gathering gifts for Veterans.

For the last 10 years, LeClaire has organized the outreach with the City of West Allis. It also involves a giving tree, which went virtual this year due to the pandemic.

LeClaire provides a list of Veterans and crafts wish lists, enabling community members to select names and purchase the gifts. The list is based on each Veteran’s interests and needs.

This year, all of the names were snapped up within two hours of being posted, Wallace said.

“The organizer from West Allis called me and said all the tags were taken,” LeClaire said.

Many people buy more than one gift, seeking to fill out as many wish lists as possible.

“They buy them all. It’s amazing what we get. It’s really a wonderful program,” Wallace added. “It blows my mind how generous people are, and this year with COVID, they’ve been even more generous. It’s incredible and such a wonderful thing.”

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