Health Care workers pull together brighter Christmas for co-worker, friend

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

When is Christmas?

Today, of course. Everyone knows that.

But if children who suffered tragedy on Christmas Day a year ago got this year’s Christmas gifts a few days early ….

“Well, what could be better?” asks Tonya Cantrell, a licensed practical nurse who works at Genesis Health Care Center and is a member of the Genesis Employee Foundation Committee. If the children who lost their parents at Christmas last year could forget that tragedy in a wonderful early Christmas this year — well, it’s happening and she’s glad.

Not only was she pleased but she didn’t even mind that until Friday afternoon she couldn’t move in her office because it was so full of gifts — boys’ and girls’ clothes, groceries, even a trampoline from Santa — because residents of the home, their families and employees and their families were determined to make it a day the children would never forget.

It all started with Hattie Chambers, who works at Genesis in the environmental services department, which means the housekeeping department.

“About this time last year,” Tonya says, “she tragically lost her daughter, Laura, who was a victim of domestic violence. She was about 30 years old.

“And now Hattie has custody of her daughter’s two children,” a 2-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy, she says.

“But Hattie found out two months ago that she has stage three breast cancer. The doctors have given her a very poor prognosis. It’s inoperable, and during the last month or so she’s been unemployed. She had to go on medical leave from Genesis. And she’s undergoing chemo.”

Grieving with her, many of the employees of Genesis have donated the Christmas gifts the company gives its employees — a $10 gift certificate to Wal-Mart — to Hattie.

Tonya thinks that at least 50 to 60 of the 200 employees “have donated their gifts to Mrs. Chambers for her to use right now, and she doesn’t know it yet. And they’ve collected clothing and groceries.”

And Tonya went shopping for gifts for the children, and wrapped everything up for them and gave them the gifts yesterday.

“Hattie and the children came to lunch,” she adds, and the employees at Genesis picked up on Oprah’s way of giving things out. The Genesis employees had lunch and carried in the groceries, toys and presents for Hattie and her two grandchildren.”

And there were a lot of things.

Moreover, residents and family members had a spaghetti dinner and raised close to $180 and sold pink ribbons Thursday and Friday and raised another $100.

And they all hope things will be all right for a while, at least.

When Friday was over, the children had about 20 gifts each, Tonya says, “and we let them open four gifts plus their stockings, and oh, their smiles and the beam of their eyes said it all. T.J. especially liked his flywheel toy, and his little sister loved her baby doll in a car seat and a Barbie tricycle to ride herself.”

And they got their trampoline.

“Two of the employees, Rick and Sandra Jackson, are going to put it up for them, and Hattie, who collects angels, got several angels for herself as well as the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book for the breast cancer survivor.

“And Hattie said she thought no one cared,” Tonya says, “but we had made her Christmas, and she said she’d never make that comment again.

“It was like something that happens in the movies,” said Lisa, Hattie’s other daughter, “and she said if she hadn’t been here to see it, she wouldn’t have believed it.”

Then she said she knew her sister, Laura, was in heaven looking down on all that was going on and seeing her two children get a Christmas of a lifetime.

And everybody was happy.

“We named Friday, Dec. 22, Hattie’s Day,”Tonya said, “and Hattie said she never would have dreamed that she would live to see a Hattie’s Day. And there wasn’t a dry eye among the employees who filled the dining room.”

Even with all the pain, this year’s Christmas is nothing like last year’s tragedy, Tonya added, satisfied with everything everybody did to make sure Hattie and her grandchildren didn’t suffer through another Christmas.

Contact Rose Post at 704-797-4251 or