Tony Aguilar arranges donations handed to him by Jean Beers (center) and Norma Hansson. (Patricia Guthrie / Whidbey News Group)

Tony Aguilar arranges donations handed to him by Jean Beers (center) and Norma Hansson. (Patricia Guthrie / Whidbey News Group)

Whidbey churches deliver cheer to Western State Hospital

Each year, parishioners load a van full of Christmas presents for the patients in Lakewood.

Bag by bag, box by box, Jean Beers and Norma Hansson emptied their car and handed off the donations to Tony Aguilar crouched in the back of a van.

“It’s getting full,” he said. Still, however, there was more.

For the third consecutive year, three South Whidbey churches linked up to deliver a van loaded with Christmas presents to residents of Western State Hospital. Early Tuesday morning, Aguilar drove to the facility located in Lakewood.

Parishioners from Langley’s St. Hubert Catholic Church and United Methodist Church, along with Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland, donated new men’s and women’s clothing, blankets, personal care products, clock radios, CDs and more.

“People are so grateful,” said organizer Beers with St. Hubert Church. We have a box in our churches throughout October and people are very generous.”

The idea to bring Christmas cheer to people living with mental illness hundreds of miles from Whidbey Island came about rather serendipitously.

“Somehow, we had a man several years ago who came out of nowhere to join our church,” explained Hansson with Trinity Lutheran Church. “His son had been at Western for 40 years.”

After learning more about the state institution, a Mental Health Support Committee among the churches was formed to figure out how to help Western residents who are dependent on donations from communities.

“The father has since died but his son is still alive so we continue the tradition,” Hansson said. “In fact, there’s one lady who wraps him a birthday present every year because his birthday falls near Christmas.”

Hues of blue and bright green popped up from some of the bags.

“We asked for Seahawks stuff, blankets, hats, shirts,” Beers laughed.

“The residents like the Seahawks just as much as anybody.”

This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.

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