Sunday, February 5, 2023
Feb. 5, 2023

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Clark County Fairgrounds event a gift for the givers

Caregiver Christmas thanks ‘all the people behind the wheelchair, behind the walkers, behind the hospital bed’

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published:
6 Photos
Debbie Russell, left, one of the founders of the annual Caregiver Christmas, greets Asdrual Garcia, son of a caregiver, as he picks up a gift package on her behalf while joined by Santa, also known as Ralph Heiser.
Debbie Russell, left, one of the founders of the annual Caregiver Christmas, greets Asdrual Garcia, son of a caregiver, as he picks up a gift package on her behalf while joined by Santa, also known as Ralph Heiser. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Dozens of cars filled with caregivers lined up Wednesday outside of the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, where their occupants were greeted by Santa and his elves, followed by a whole cast of other volunteers dressed in Christmas-themed clothes surrounded by inflatable snowmen, lights and Christmas music.

This year marks the third annual Caregiver Christmas, hosted by Loving Them Forward. The event is put on to celebrate caregivers across the county by giving a gift and creating a space dedicated to thanking them for the work they do.

“We’re excited to be able to bring joy to people who don’t normally get to have joy and definitely don’t normally get to be celebrated — these are all the people behind the wheelchair, behind the walkers, behind the hospital bed,” said Christina Keys, president of Loving Them Forward and founder of Caregiver Christmas. She is also a caregiver for both her mom and her ex-boyfriend. “These are the ones that are loving absolutely unconditionally.”

This year, volunteers and community partners helped fill 750 gift bags for caregivers. Each bag was filled with $100 worth of goodies including coupons, gift cards, art projects, water bottles and more.

After driving past the booths of sponsors and picking up their gift bags, caregivers drove past the “Tender Loving Caregivers” tent for optional hugs, testimonials about what it means to be a caregiver, and free ice cream.

“This is the first time I’ve seen something like this,” said Linda Peterson, a professional caregiver. “It’s very rewarding.”

The free event was open to all professional and family caregivers who preregistered.

“It’s awesome to be appreciated today, and we are appreciated every day by those we work with,” said Kristin Hernandez, a caregiver at NW Supported Living. “The work is rewarding every day.”

The idea for Caregiver Christmas came to Keys three years ago, while lying awake with a “caregiver migraine.”

“I was thinking about Christmas and how sad it was going to be having to explain to my mom, over and over again, why family wasn’t there and why there was no money for presents,” Keys said. “This isn’t the story of Christina Keys; this is the story of hundreds and thousands of caregivers.”

With the help of dozens of community organizations, many of which work with caregivers and those needing assistance, Keys has been able to create a special holiday season for hundreds of caregivers in Clark County.

“I see firsthand what caregivers do,” said Michael McCafferty, owner of Mikey’s House Team, a sponsor of the event, referring to his sister in assisted care. “At times, it is a very thankless job.”

Caregiver Christmas pulled dozens of volunteers and hundreds of the thousands of caregivers across Clark County this year.

“Caregivers don’t get enough appreciation, so this is amazing,” said caregiver Chelsea Wellwood.

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