Record number of clients attend annual Gift Lift


While organizers knew a record number of attendees would flood the church, they hadn’t anticipated running out of seats.

Mental Health America of Jackson County held a Christmas party for around 250 clients during its annual Gift Lift on Thursday at Central Christian Church in Seymour. While 200 registered for the event, a large group of clients that joined in on the festivities came without an RSVP.

Melanie O’Neal, executive director of the organization, didn’t have a problem bringing in folding chairs to accommodate the extra attendees.

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“It’s a great problem to have,” O’Neal said. “The goal of our function is to get people out of the house and into an environment where they can have a fun, safe evening. We would rather they come and partake in our event than not attend.”

Last year, about 170 clients attended the event, which was also a record. When the event started more than 25 years ago, just 10 clients participated.

O’Neal, who has worked in her current position for about two years, said she has spent a lot of time reaching out to different group homes.

“We have found additional assisted living group homes in our community that our organization has served in the past,” she said. “We have also improved our relationship with Centerstone by getting to know their staff more.”

Most of the clients are adults and reside in assisted living centers, nursing homes or adult group homes.

After dinner was served by volunteers, Santa and Mrs. Claus came by to meet with the clients. Each client was able to take home a photo with the couple.

Betty Webster and her caretaker, Trudy Shouse, enjoyed their time with the special visitors.

“I’ve been with Miss Betty since Feb. 14, 2011,” Shouse said. “We’ve been to this event every year. She loves coming here and I love coming with her. There’s a lot of love and compassion here.”

Following the meal, volunteers handed out gifts to the clients.

Mae Krumme said she and her husband have donated to the organization in the past but wanted to get more involved in volunteering at events this year.

“I was asked if I wanted to come out and see where our donation went,” Krumme said. “I thought it was a great cause. I helped with the Halloween party and now the Christmas party. It’s great that our community is doing this.”

Seymour Mayor-elect Matt Nicholson also helped serve food and hand out gifts.

“You call someone’s name for the gift, and you can see the excitement,” Nicholson said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great chance for everyone to get together and build community. It makes us better. We have all these homes that residents live in, and they don’t see each other, and this is a chance to come together and have a good time.”

O’Neal said each client was able to request four different gifts, each valued at $15 or less, and additional donated gifts also were in the boxes.

Work on the Gift Lift began in September, as O’Neal asked businesses, individuals and organizations for donations. They also utilized angel trees.

“We’ve had tremendous support,” O’Neal said.

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