By Nicole Kidder-Perry, Reporter
A decade ago, Nine Mile Falls resident Kelli True embarked on a mission with her sister-in-law, Chere Perrigo, to fill an unmet need at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. As a veteran nurse, True worked closely with a case manager, who shared that while the children in the pediatrics and oncology units were blessed with abundance, the teens on the adolescent psychiatric floor did not receive any Christmas presents.
“The things these kids can have must be specific, safe items,” explains True, noting that the majority of the patients struggle with severe mental, emotional, and behavioral issues that can include self-harm. “It’s a tough unit that is emotionally draining, and many of them come from difficult home situations. It was an easy decision to adopt them.”
For the past 10 years, True and Perrigo have joined forces to fill stockings and tote bags for the 12–18-year-olds who are working to get back on track after facing a mental health emergency. Under the True Angels Children’s Foundation banner, they have assembled a team of family, friends, coworkers, and church communities to gather assorted supplies, ranging from lip balm and fuzzy socks to toiletry items and candy.
Since hospital stays can range from weeks to months until proper placement for continuing treatment is found, each teen also receives gifts that help pass the time, such as cards, board games, and art supplies. True says a Bible is included in each stocking, “because some have never heard about Christ.” After discovering that the patients often arrive without any comfort items, sometimes lacking even a change of clothing, the gift list was expanded to include a soft blanket, handmade pillowcase, and stuffed animal.
True recalls one of her favorite memories over the years about a young girl who would not speak to anybody until she received her teddy bear. “If someone would ask her to tell them about her animal, she would light up and engage. It became an avenue to help her express herself, to start opening up and healing. That makes us feel like we are doing some good in the world.”
Each year, they also stock the unit’s common areas with young adult book series, movies, and video games. True Angels asks where specific needs can be filled, such as the year they purchased a stereo for the gym. The group also makes sure to honor the staff with special treats of tumblers, cocoa, popcorn, and cookies.
“The caregivers on this unit work hard taking care of these kids day after day,” True says. “They navigate everything from emotional outlashes to developmental delays to compulsive behaviors.” Some struggle with anger, anxiety, and eating disorders, while others are learning to manage autism, bipolar depression, and trauma. They often face chronic, severe illnesses that require 24-hour care and hands-on management of therapies, medication, and treatment plan follow-through. “The staff help them get the care they need so that they can be successful in getting through the hard times they are going through.”
To protect the anonymity of the patients, delivery of the goodies happens behind the scenes. The weekend before Christmas, they host a Wrap Party with a dozen volunteers helping to stuff stockings and fill totes. Later that week, a few of the secret Santas meet up with hospital counselors and nurse managers in the parking garage to unload the jam-packed truck and Jeep. They then wheel the presents up to the floor, tucking them safely into the supply room until they are distributed by staff on Christmas morning.
“One of those earlier Christmases, when we first began,” True recounts, “my friend, Nurse Martha, just started bawling when she saw what we had brought in. She kept saying, ‘I can’t believe you are doing this for our kids. You are true angels!’ And that is how we got our name, True Angels Children’s Foundation. And since my sister-in-law and I are both Trues, it was a perfect fit.”
Building a Community of Angels
While True and Perrigo initially shouldered most of the work and financial expenses, the sisters have built a community of support to grow the project’s efforts. “We want to provide more for them, and all the items are new since many of these kids come from tough home situations and don’t get a lot of new things. It matters,” says True, who shops all year to score great discounts.
This year, True’s sister enlisted donations from her church fellowship in Cashmere, Wash. One friend, who is a retired ICU nurse, regularly donates items, and another former co-worker teams up with fifteen women to sew patient-safe pillowcases with the stitching inside so that it can’t be pulled out. So far, they have made 1,066 pillowcases in bright colors and fun patterns, like cats and cows and cowboy hats, so that each teen can pick something that expresses their personality.
“It’s amazing to think that by starting something small, we have been able to touch other people to open their hearts to give in unique ways. I don’t know if that would have happened if we hadn’t started this project,” True says. “It’s a ripple effect each time you do something for someone. People hear about what you are doing, and they become more generous. They think about how fortunate they are and how they can help others.”
Extra donations this year allowed them to stock up the unit for the entire year with pajamas, underwear, socks, and gloves for each child. This success has inspired True Angels to expand their mission in 2022 to provide admission packs for each of the five hundred teens who check into the unit’s twenty-four rooms each year. The welcome kit will include items like chewing gum, playing cards, and a pen and journal.
“Each year, this is our baby that we focus on. It’s hard knowing kids are out there struggling and that they don’t have what our kids have. It makes us feel really good knowing that, possibly, something we have given them or done for them will help them get through what they are facing. You want all the kids to have a good life, to succeed. My hope is that each one grows up to be successful, pays it back, and helps kids like they once were. It’s something we will continue doing for a long, long time knowing that the need is there.”
To make a donation or support the efforts of the True Angels Children’s Foundation, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/trueangelschildrensfoundation.