Holiday bags already filled the trunk and back seat of Rene Porter’s minivan as she headed to pick up more goodies Thursday morning.
The mother of three from Winter Garden and a small team of volunteers counted and collected dozens of bags filled with holiday decorations destined for children’s hospital rooms across the country.
“I think it’s invaluable,” said Porter, 37. “They’re very excited when we roll up to their hospitals.”
For the past three years, garland, artificial trees and shatterproof ornaments, among other items, were dropped off at several donation locations across Central Florida.
The first stop on this morning was at the Fountain Buick/GMC Auto Mall on Orange Blossom Trail.
Bags adorned with reindeer, snowmen and Santa Claus were checked to make sure they were safe for young patients and packed into the car.
Porter calls her effort “The Greyson Project,” which is inspired by a family friend’s experience after spending Christmas in the hospital several years ago.
Porter’s close friends, Heather and Tyson Heineke, spent 80 days, including Christmas, in the hospital with their 1-year-old son, Greyson. Porter noticed how festive Greyson’s hospital room was compared to many other children’s rooms that lacked holiday cheer.
“When me and my husband walked in that room that night and saw it transform to something that was even a little bit more like home, it made all the difference,” Porter said.
The Heinekes now live in Colorado and are helping to expand the project. Greyson’s grandmother, Marsha Heineke, helps with the project in Orlando.
“I wanted to be put to work,” Heineke said. “This means the world to us.”
Each bag represents one hospital room’s worth of décor. They’ve collected 762 bags so far this season.
“Many families are here unexpectedly and haven’t had an opportunity to prepare for spending the holiday in the hospital,” said Jeanine Clapsaddle, clinical supervisor for children’s services and community engagement at Arnold Palmer Hospital. “Something as simple as putting up Christmas decorations in your room can help things feel a little more normal.”
The project already has filled the rooms at Nemours Children’s Hospital and the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. Porter plans to drop off donations at the Florida Hospital this week.
Porter said she doesn’t have a goal for how many bags she hopes to collect.
“I just want to get them to children who need them,” Porter said.
Hospital staff members take the bags and distribute them to the families and they decorate the rooms themselves.
For information about donating or volunteering, go to: Media
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