Mental Health group hands out gifts to clients


It took half a dozen shopping trips and countless hours of organization, but Mental Health America of Jackson County pulled off Christmas for more than 170 clients during its annual Gift Lift.

That’s far more than the 10 or so clients it served during the first one more than 25 years ago.

Gifts lined the walls Thursday evening at Central Christian Church in Seymour, where clients, their families and caregivers gathered for a meal and to celebrate the holiday.

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Melanie O’Neal, executive director of the organization, said the event helps people who don’t get the opportunity to socialize often to do just that.

Sometimes, she said that’s just what some need, which is why the organization hosts a social event each quarter.

“It’s a good mental health break for them,” she said. “We all like to get out and enjoy ourselves, but these people don’t get to do that often, so it’s just the right environment, the right setting and we have people who care.”

After everyone ate dinner, O’Neal received help from board members and others in distributing gifts.

Tim Ashburn was among the clients who received gifts. Being a longtime Indiana Hoosiers and Indianapolis Colts fan, his gift bag contained a T-shirt for each team and a Hoosiers rug.

Jamie Moore, Ashburn’s staff member, said she had a good time watching him open his gift bag. She also got to help hand out gifts to other clients at the event.

She said it’s fun seeing everyone in a good mood while interacting, visiting with Santa and listening to music.

“Just the joy on their faces makes it worth it,” Moore said. “That twinkle in their eye, you can’t replace it.”

O’Neal said work on the Gift Lift began in October. She asked businesses, individuals and organizations for donations. The organization also utilized angel trees.

Board members took a large shopping trip to get most of the items, but other efforts included local sororities and other groups.

“We probably made a half dozen trips ourselves,” O’Neal said.

The record number of clients served is due in part to O’Neal’s effort to make connections with local group homes. When she began in January, she had contact with a handful of them. Now, that list has grown to nearly triple the size.

Most of the clients are adults and reside in assisting living centers, a nursing home or an adult group home.

Some circumstances include parents who have passed away or families aren’t connected together, but the Gift Lift provides an opportunity to socialize with people who they may not see much, creating a family-like event.

“A lot of these people wouldn’t have something like this to attend,” O’Neal said.

The event also provides items they want and need. O’Neal said seeing some of the requests was eye-opening because many were focused on essentials rather than items they would want.

“We had them ask for anything from toiletry items to cleaning supplies and even treats for their pets,” she said. “It was eye-opening to see how they requested so many necessities.”

The organization purchased warm clothing accessories, cleaning supplies, hygiene items and more.

It also purchased items like toy cars, sports apparel, gift cards and more.

One man asked for a necklace to give to his girlfriend, and O’Neal said one was donated so he could give her a nice present for Christmas.

“It’s a fun event, but these are not just luxury items, but are necessities,” O’Neal said.

Walmart Distribution Center donated items that were discontinued or damaged. Forklifts damaged a skid of laundry detergent, and employees put what was left in plastic locking bags.

Those were donated to the organization to distribute.

“I was able to take it to each group home,” O’Neal said.

She also distributed hair products, soaps and more.

“To know it’s going to a good place is great,” she said.

O’Neal also was connected to someone who works for the distribution center’s transportation division. The woman organized an effort to collect money from semi drivers.

When she gave the donation to O’Neal, the woman told her she wished she could have raised more. O’Neal thought maybe it was $100 or something.

“In my head, I thought it would be great because it would be $100 more than we had,” she said.

But it was $500.

“We were in tears at Walmart,” she said. “That was another unexpected blessing.”

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Want more information about Mental Health America of Jackson County?

Call 812-522-3480, visit the office at 113 N. Chestnut St., Suite 304, Seymour, or email [email protected].


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