By Judy Babb
For Susan Stacy, helping others is a given. She’s a licensed professional counselor and works with clients every day. But that’s not the whole of it. For more than 20 years, she’s made a habit of helping those who are often overlooked.
In 2008, she was a volunteer at a nursing home in South Dallas. Initially her involvement was with the people who lived in the home.
“It started out that I’d give socks to the people in the nursing home,” Stacy said. “At that point, it was about the people who were living in the home.”
Her focus changed as she noticed the people who worked in the care facility and realized how overlooked and underpaid they were.
“The nursing homes are open 24-7. There’s no break,” she said. “I really just appreciated those who had to work on Christmas Day and be away from their families.”
She made it her mission to make these people feel special, especially at Christmas. The non-profit Helping Our Helpers was born.
The organization’s mission is to support caregivers and helpers in nursing homes and other caregiving positions to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue. The group also does workshops and presentations and offers discounted counseling.
Christmas is a special time of the year. They give gift bags at Christmas to everyone from the caregivers to the cooks and janitors to let them know how much their work is appreciated. Creating and delivering the gift bags is a job requiring a number of people. Stacy doesn’t do all this single-handedly. She has her ambassadors, many of whom are family members.
Before Christmas, Stacy calls the facilities the group delivers to and finds out how many people will be working on Christmas Day. They want to make sure that everyone there gets a bag.
Stacy and one of the organization’s board members then go shopping for the goodies to fill the bags. They head for Wal-Mart and, according to the organization’s Facebook page, “buy out all the mini-lotions the store has.” This year they gave away 75 bags — down from 150 bags in past years due to COVID.
After all the items are purchased, another group — much smaller this year than in the past — gets together and creates the gift bags, making sure that each one has all the items. “We don’t want to create bag envy,” Stacy said of the careful building of the bags. Some of the volunteers are children of members of Stacy’s family, which includes her four brothers and their families.
One of these ambassadors is 9-year-old Elle. Though Elle wasn’t able to help with the delivery this year because of vaccine issues, she has been a hit in past years as she popped into nursing homes with bags to give away.
Justin Stacy, his wife Amber and their children have been involved since the Christmas of 2013 after they moved back to Texas from Florida.
Amber remembers the family gathering at their grandmother’s and everyone sitting on the floor and putting dollar bills and fuzzy socks in the bags. This year, 15-year-old Emma and 12-year-old Owen were involved as well.
Delivery was less exciting this year due to COVID restrictions. “Some [nursing] homes don’t want you to go into the building and pass them out,” Stacy said of rules. “They want you to just drop them at the front desk. There are just a myriad of different challenges.”
In the bags are some other comfort items besides fuzzy socks, like a scented candle, a nice chocolate bar and several Christmas ornaments.
Some items are therapeutic, although the person may not realize it. Included is a bottle of solution to blow bubbles. Stacey said blowing bubbles requires deep breathing, which helps with anxiety and worry. The bags also include a journal because journaling can be very therapeutic.
The places they deliver to are scattered across the area. Among them are a nursing home in Farmersville where one of Stacy’s brothers lives, and a fire station in Frisco, as well as nursing homes in the White Rock Lake area. Wherever the volunteers go, they are appreciated.
Stacy recalls the joy on the faces of the caregivers, who gathered at the reception area as they brought in the bags. One stood out to Stacy. As she pulled items out of her bag, she named the people to whom she would give the items. She loved the bag because it allowed her to provide gifts to members of her own family.
While Helping Our Helpers had its restrictions this year, the members are looking forward to coming back strong in 2022. The mission is to keep helping those who serve others so selflessly.
For more information on how to get involved, visit helpingourhelpers.org.