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Sheriffs arrest holiday blues at nursing home


Last month, Multnomah County Sheriffs Office employees played Santa Claus for residents across the street at Menlo Park Healthcare, a skilled nursing facility. MCSO personnel are, from left, Rhoda English, Ginger Suda, Julie Long, Lt. Mary Lindstrand, Sgt. Louise Moaning, Deputy Don Bryant (Santa Claus), Sgt. Diana Olsen, Chaplain Janice Beeghly and Kim Stidum.
Rhoda English, an office assistant with the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Close Street Supervision Program, helps a patient open his gift. English was the representative from the MCSO that organized the holiday largesse and party for the residents of Menlo Park Healthcare.
Santa Claus (Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy Don Bryant) poses with Menlo Park Healthcare patient Paul Newcomb during last month's holiday party at the skilled nursing facility. The MCSO adopted all 55 residents of the facility for Christmas this year.
Menlo Park Healthcare resident Mark James watches Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Diana Olsen open his gifts.
Every holiday season, toy and food drives are ubiquitous. They're at your work, at your school, at your favorite restaurant or watering hole. Internet social network sites are rife with them, and local radio and television stations host them. Every year strangers - out of sheer generosity - fill stockings and buy presents for many less fortunate little people. After all, isn't Christmas about giving - especially to children?

It is, but this Christmas - because of current and former Multnomah County Sheriff's Office personnel - gifts, presents and necessities were purchased for the 55 seniors and adults residing at the long-term, skilled nursing facility across the street from the sheriff's office.

The Multnomah County sheriffs have vigorous holiday giving programs. These include their 21st annual holiday gift-giving party for homeless kids at the private Community Transitional School, food drives for SnowCap Community Charities and the popular Shop with a Cop program, to name a few. The generosity isn't exclusive to Sheriff's Office active personnel either; scores of MCSO retirees annually participate.

So, when Menlo Park Healthcare Activity Director Becky Bilyeu contacted Rhoda English - an office assistant with MCSO's Close Street Supervision Program - about adopting the care center's 55 residents this year, she said yes, but with caveats.

English isn't the usual conduit for official, sanctioned MCSO holiday largesse. Two years ago while perusing Craigslist for Christmas projects, English found a listing asking someone to make Christmas stockings for them. After English responded and did it, she was asked for more. When the requestor told English she lived at Menlo Park Healthcare and asked if English would do the same for other patients, as many didn't have family and were alone during the holidays, big-hearted English agreed. On her own initiative, she rounded up enough gifts and donations from colleagues, co-workers and friends to make Christmas merry for 40 more Menlo Park Healthcare residents that year. Unlike this year - with Santa, his sleigh full of gifts and a cadre of MCSO personnel - English just dropped the presents off at the facility for distribution.

After English did all this, she was told that because, in essence, she was representing the Sheriff's Office, she should have gone through the chain of command for permission.

When Bilyeu, the new activities director at Menlo Park Healthcare, saw pictures from Christmas 2007, she contacted English and asked if she and her friends at MSCO would help again this year. This time, English went through the chain of command and obtained new Sheriff Daniel Staton's permission to officially involve his office. Subsequently, an e-mail solicitation on behalf of the patients went out to more than 700 current and retired MCSO employees resulting in an overwhelming response, allowing every resident of the care facility to be adopted.

English was overwhelmed by both responses: the outpouring from her fellow MCSO employees and the reaction of the residents. “I was ecstatic,” she said. “I came away feeling renewed. My co-workers and the retirees were so generous. I'm proud of the people I work with. We've been through a really rough year with (former Sheriff Bernie) Giusto stepping down, with (former Sheriff Bob) Skipper coming on board, then him having to step down. Now we've got Sheriff Staton there; all the accusations. This was such a good thing for (MCSO) staff.”

Bilyeu said, “I think it's amazing the Sheriff's Office did this. It's really, really nice for our residents. Many residents don't have family.” Bilyeu had the residents fill out wish lists. “I didn't give them a price limit. I just asked them what they needed. And for the most part, they kept it within reason.

“Some patients got things they really wanted, and everyone got a handmade Christmas stocking,” Bilyeu said. “Others got things like coats, shoes, things they really needed. Requests ranged from the high end - new eyeglasses and designer perfume - to low end - Scotch tape and handkerchiefs. Everything I asked for (MCSO) brought. Everyone was just amazed at their gifts. They got really nice things, and so much. They brought food, they brought Santa and his sleigh. It was just really awesome.”

Menlo Park Healthcare, 745 N.E. 122nd Ave., has two wings, one for long-term care and one for temporary patients. The average stay is anywhere from 20 days to six months with some residents. All patients require 24-hour care, as they are recovering from some sort of injury or illness. Menlo Park Healthcare treats many indigent people.

Bilyeu said English has already volunteered to come back next year. “Hopefully we'll pick it right back up and do it all over again.”

Yes, there is a Santa Claus, and he wears a green uniform and a badge under his red suit.

Sgt. Louise Moaning gives Paul Timmins, a Menlo Park Healthcare resident, his box of gifts. MCSO Chaplain Janice Beeghly plays Santa's helper at Menlo Park Healthcare's holiday last month held at the skilled nursing facility.
Santa poses with Mid-county residents Nancy and Ed Tompkins. The Tompkins have spent time at Menlo Park Healthcare as patients separately and together.
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