VMHMC’s Christmas Drive kicks off

Ellen Ball, left, and Kym Bushong, chair of the Volunteers for Mental Health in Montgomery County Christmas Drive, prepare to roll out the barrels.
Ellen Ball, left, and Kym Bushong, chair of the Volunteers for Mental Health in Montgomery County Christmas Drive, prepare to roll out the barrels.
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As surely as tulips and robins foreshadow the coming of spring, there is little doubt that Christmas is just around the corner when holly-bedecked bins, barrels and boxes start to populate local stores. It’s been that way for four decades when the Volunteers for Mental Health in Montgomery County kick off their annual Christmas Drive.

The program is often cited for its uniqueness.

“I’ve worked in facilities in larger communities, and there is nothing there like this,” said an activity director of one long-term facility.

This year, 23 locations are hosting a community collection container through Nov. 30.

• Backstep Brewing Company, 125 N. Green St., Crawfordsville

• Chase Bank, 200 S. Washington St., Crawfordsville

• Feather’s Touch Health and Fitness, 106 S. Green St, Crawfordsville

• First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 211 S Walnut St.

• Fusion 54, 101 W. Main St., Crawfordsville

• Gregg’s Corner Market, 100 W. Washington St., Waynetown

• HHSB Crawfordsville East, 1400 Darlington Ave., Crawfordsville

• HHSB Crawfordsville South, 1661 S. U.S. 231, Crawfordsville

• HHSB Ladoga, 4123 E. Main St., Ladoga

• HHSB Linden, 100 N. Meridian St., Linden

• HHSB New Ross, 101 S. Main St., New Ross

• HHSB Roachdale, 108 N. Indiana St., Roachdale

• Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, 100 Walter Remley Dr., Crawfordsville

• Joshua Cup, 111 E. Main St., Crawfordsville

• New Market United Methodist Church, 101 E. Main St., New Market

• Pipher’s Auto and Tire Service, 204 S. Vine St., Wingate

• Quest for Balance Wellness, 2886 U.S. 231, Crawfordsville

• R.P. Home and Harvest, 1601 U.S. 231, Crawfordsville

• Recovery Rec, 1300 Ladoga Rd., Crawfordsville

• Teachers Credit Union, 1570 U.S. 231, Crawfordsville

• Tri-County Bank, 224 E. Main St., Crawfordsville

• Tri-County Bank, 101 E. South Blvd, Crawfordsville

• Youngs Chapel Church, 2341 C.R. 550N, Crawfordsville

“I’ve worked with the program for many years,” said Christmas Drive chair Kym Bushong, “and I believe that is the greatest number of collection locations.” 

Perhaps this wave of support mirrors both the need and desire for the program. Last year, VMHMC boldly stated, “We may bend due to COVID-19, but it won’t break us” when they stubbornly goaled to continue the program, even during a pandemic.

With the help of the community’s generosity, the all-volunteer non-profit organization implemented the program entirely through purchase of items and served more than 260 adults in need in 2020.

“With a year of careful COVID dancing behind us, we are hoping to return to our previous Christmas Drive model of placing collection containers in the community for gracious community members who enjoy shopping for those in need,” said Denise Walker, VMHMC board president.

Along with fulfilling clothing requests, VMHMC is fortunate that the United Way in Montgomery County helps fund purchase of six toiletry items to construct personal toiletry kits for each of the recipients.

In Indiana, the share of total nursing facilities residents who are Medicaid-sponsored was last measured at 62%, according to a 2017 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Once a Medicaid patient fulfills his or her share of treatment costs, the patient is usually left with a small allowance for personal needs. Having United Way assist with some of the most basic needs is a true blessing for the Volunteers and the recipients.

The recipients’ request list also offers additional basic needs such as clothing. The complete gift suggestion list is available on the group’s website, www.vmhmc.org  A child may complain of clothing gifts on Christmas morning, but to most of these adult recipients, the response is pure joy.

This year, Volunteers for Mental Health is serving clients in the following agencies: Ability Services, group homes, local nursing homes, Trinity Life Ministry, Pam’s Promise, Through the Gate and Valley Oaks.

The group can’t anticipate every request, so it relies on agency staff members to help express the wishes of the clients.  “Could we please have razors?” came a polite and logical request from Trinity for its 40 male residents. One long-term care facility requests lotion for its residents, and another prefers tissues. Some clients long for something as simple as Mountain Dew or some favorite candy.

There are some notable exceptions that also go beyond the basics. A few years ago. Volunteers for Mental Health received a four-word request: “just a blue dress.” VMHMC maintains an active inventory of all donations it receives. A grant from Tipmont Operation Round Up helped fund containers and rolling carts for greater accessibility.

There was no blue dress in the inventory.  None was collected from the community that year either. Generous cash donations from the community enable VMHMC to purchase special items in such a case.  Monetary donations can be mailed to: VMHMC, P.O. Box 491, Crawfordsville, IN 47933.

Though VMHMC members are never present when the gifts are opened, this doesn’t stop these dream-makers from having their own dreams of those moments.  In one of these dreams, someone’s mother, grandmother, or friend sits with a large red bag of gifts on her lap. Slowly, she opens each one and nods to acknowledge a basic necessity it fulfils.  When the bag is nearly empty, on the bottom of the bag remains one flat package.  Her neighbor leans over, and whispers, “It’s Christmas! Why are you crying?” In her hands, the woman holds up a petite blue dress. It’s just a blue dress, but it’s something more: it’s constructed of a fabric that citizens of Montgomery County have woven together for 40 years.

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