They have gathered on this sunny Friday morning in a light-filled room to help people who are dying.
It is not somber work. The eight women and one man chat as they fill blue cloth bags with items meant to bring comfort to patients in the final stage of their lives. They form an efficient conga line, stuffing the bags and handing them off to have a card tied to the handle.
The first thing into the Bag of Love is a comfy red blanket rolled up like a giant burrito. Then playing cards to encourage interaction with visitors. Lotion to promote touch. Letter prompts to help patients write end-of-life letters to loved ones. Hand sanitizer. Shampoo. A list of resources, pens and a notebook. A battery-operated candle and a copy of the Serenity Prayer.
Vana Surmanian, who three years ago organized the Helping Hands Hospice Guild, gets items donated and buys the rest. She allows that she spends a lot of time in the Dollar Store.
All 100 blankets today have been contributed by an anonymous donor, along with 500 more for future bags. Guild member Todd Johnson works for Medline, which makes and distributes medical supplies; he’s brought the bottles of hand sanitizer and shampoo.
The guild is an arm of Southern California Hospice Foundation. The foundation doesn’t provide hospice care but works closely with hospice providers who do. The foundation’s aim is to raise awareness about hospice and grant end-of-life wishes for patients.
Guild members support the foundation and pay annual dues of $50 for the privilege of donating their time and energy.
“We wanted to involve the community in a fun philanthropic way,” says Michelle Wulfestieg, 35, executive director of the foundation. After the bags are filled, they are taken to patients by nurses or other members of the hospice team.