Santa may not exist, but his spirit certainly does - at least in the HUGS and HOPE Club for sick children.
Every child deserves a merry Christmas. The HUGS and HOPE Foundation is determined to make the holidays happier for kids battling serious illnesses.
When founder, Marsha Jordan, learned of a young boy with a brain tumor, she asked all her friends to pray for him; but she wanted to do more. “After considering what resources I had, " said Jordan, “I knew I could not do a lot, but I could do something; and I determined to do what I could. " She created a web page with the little boy's photo and story, and she hoped others would send cheery mail to the boy or assist his family in any way they could.
What began as one grandma's single handed effort has now grown to a network of over 2,500 volunteers nationwide with The HUGS and HOPE Club for sick kids. The club provides a 24-hour chat group where parents of sick children can meet other parents and volunteers for emotional support and information. The HUGS and HOPE Foundation also sponsors a Parent Pal program, which matches up a volunteer “pal" with an isolated parent. The pal stays in close contact with the parent providing the rare commodity of friendship. HUGS and HOPE also grants wishes for children, sends balloon bouquets to hospitals, and provides birthday party packages and Christmas gifts. “Older adults might be interested in this program, " Marsha said.
Once an energetic volunteer, Jordan's life took a sudden sharp turn when she fell victim to a connective tissue disease. Her busy schedule came to a screeching halt because of migraines, fatigue, fibromyalgia, and joint pain. Due to complications of the illness, she was also struck blind for several months. She knows how it feels to be in pain, isolated, and afraid. This is why she can relate to children who are seriously ill.
After Jordan's grandson was severely burned, she learned first hand how helpless parents feel when their little ones are hurting and no one can stop the pain. Jordan's hobby of sending cheery cards to hospitalized children and notes of encouragement to their parents soon blossomed into a fulltime job.
"We all experience bad things, but it's always harder when you see a child suffer, because they don't understand. I had to hold my grandson down while the doctor ripped the burned skin off his hand. I could tell by the way he looked at me he was thinking, “Why aren't you helping me?" I was helping him, but he didn't realize it, " Jordan said.
During the holiday season, HUGS and HOPE volunteers work on the Project Elf, which matches up a sick child with a volunteer “elf. "
The parents of sick children are often too poor, too stressed, and too busy caring for their child to shop for gifts. Many of them are isolated with children who cannot leave the house. “The families are devasted with medical bills. Many parents lose their jobs because they spend so much time in emergency rooms and intensive care units with their children, " Jordan said.
Perhaps this holiday season, the HUGS and HOPE message might go a long way in spreading the cheer. “Helping other people is fantastic for your own well being. If you're depressed, thinking about somebody else helps. Focus on others, and pretty soon you're not depressed at all, " she said. “No matter how old you are, or what your skills are (or lack of skills), you can still be useful and make a difference. There are a lot of grandmothers in their 80's and in wheelchairs who get on their computers every day to read those stories of the kids and send their moms letters or mail the kids little gifts like stickers. The kids live for that, and the volunteers enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that they're making a child's life brighter. The kids look forward to receiving their own mail and volunteers love to send it; so everybody wins, " Jordan said.
Watch for more information on Marsha's book called “Hugs, Hope, and Peanut Butter. " In it, she shares her own experiences of living with chronic pain and depression and the lessons she's learned from them. The book is illustrated with drawings by the sick HUGS and HOPE Club kids and their siblings. Proceeds from the book will go to the kids.
Jordan, also known as the “Peanut Butter Queen, " believes that hope and love are sticky like peanut butter. “When you spread them around, " she says, “you can't help but get some on yourself too. "
Yes, Santa still exists. He lives in the hearts of Hugs and Hope Club members! The group is always looking for more hug givers and hope builders. To learn more becoming a volunteer or helping in some way, visit the Hugs and Hope web site at www.hugsandhope.org
Marsha Jordan, founder of the HUGS and HOPE charity for sick children, is a disabled grandmother in the north woods of Wisconsin where she lives with her husband of 30 years and their badly behaved toy poodle, King Louie, who rules their household with an iron paw.