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Christmas blankets bring joy to Elkhart General Hospital patients, staff

Five years ago, Mendy Dendy, RN, CMSRN, sent a note to Elkhart General Hospital’s Medical Surgical Unit:

While blankets are certainly a necessity, to be given one symbolizes caring, compassion and comfort. On Christmas Day, we want to give a blanket to each of our patients here on the Medical Surgical Unit. Our goal is to collect at least 32 warm fuzzy blankets and throws by Christmas Eve.

Dendy, manager of Patient Care Services for the Medical Surgical and Total Joint units, says she chose blankets because they bring joy to her life and to the lives of others. “I love blankets,” she said.

In 2020, a year where close contact could spread a deadly virus, blankets are an even more poignant representation of the love and care Dendy and the staff of Elkhart General provide for our patients.

“We can’t hold hands, we can’t hug,” said Deanna Roberts, RN, Director of the Medical Surgical Unit, Total Joint Unit, and Nursing Support Services. “Even smiling can be difficult to show behind a mask.”

During the pandemic, Dendy and Roberts and their staff have helped many patients connect with family over FaceTime and through other forms of communication. “But it’s not the same,” Dendy said.

As the holiday tradition has continued over the past five years, the response has become more and more enthusiastic. With a goal of 32 blankets in the first year, the staff of Elkhart General gave 125 blankets, enough to hand a blanket to every single patient in the hospital.

This year, with hospitals around the nation working at maximum capacity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dendy set a lofty goal: 220 blankets. A couple days before Christmas, she was just five blankets shy of the goal, and more blankets were on the way. “We’ve had so much support from the community.”

Dendy said one of her team members picked up some blankets to donate to the hospital and witnessed a moment of true generosity from a community member. “The person behind her overheard her conversation with the cashier,” Dendy said. “They bought ten more blankets to give to the collection.”

Another local store gave Dendy’s husband a 75 percent discount on blankets, after hearing where they were headed. And volunteers at Elkhart General have even made quilts for patients.

Roberts says handing out the blankets is one of her favorite activities of every year. “It’s great to see staff be so excited to give out blankets.”

As an exhausting year draws to a close, staff across Elkhart General have leaned into the spirit of the holidays. “People needed joy this year,” Roberts said.

Thanks to donations from businesses and individuals across the community, Roberts recently handed out coffee mugs filled with gifts and gift cards to staff who have been deeply affected by the pandemic. And participation in the staff “Secret Santa” exchange this year was the highest it has ever been.

With more than 200 blankets, Dendy and Roberts had enough to hand out to every patient in the hospital on Christmas Day and more. But they are always happy to accept more gifts for patients and staff to give throughout the year.

About Benjamin Dashley