Her family’s visit to St. Joseph’s Health Centre every year on Christmas Eve sums up the holidays for Jane Watson.
This year, she, her husband, two daughters, one of her sisters and niece will be visiting as many as 400 patients stuck in hospital for Christmas.
They’ll go room to room visiting each and every patient, giving them a small gift, smiles and some conversation. In recent years, a choir accompanied them after a St. Joe’s nurse was inspired by Watson’s efforts, she asked if she and the singers could join the family.
“It adds so much to it,” said Watson. The patients are so overwhelmed by such a small token. “Every year, someone will tell me that this is the only gift they’ll get. I think some of them feel they’re being forgotten,” she said.
Project Hope was founded by a good friend of Watson’s, Ann Ferron. Ferron had been delivering gifts to patients at St. Michael’s Hospital and Toronto General Hospital for several years.
More than two decades ago, Ferron lost her father four days after Christmas. Several years later, her mother passed away just days before. She knows how lonely Christmas can be and realized she wasn’t alone.
Ferron decided she wanted to bring hope to people who are in hospital and started delivering gifts on Christmas Eve.
When Ferron moved to Arizona, Watson decided to continue her friend’s efforts. For Watson, she knew she wanted to make a difference at St. Joe’s.
More than a decade ago, her six-week-old son William Thomas was rushed to its emergency department where he passed away.
“(Project Hope) is such a loving way to honour our son,” Watson told The Villager. Project Hope has become a Christmas Eve tradition for the Royal York Road and Bloor Street West woman and her family. They’ll start around 10 a.m. on Christmas Eve day. It’ll take them a couple of hours to deliver the gifts. They’ll leave a bag of gifts in the ER too. “Last year, we were able to visit patients there. We wore gowns, masks and gloves – as long as it was safe for them,” she said. Project Hope is celebrating its ninth year. “
The night our son died is still so clear. He was rushed to St. Joe’s and from the moment we arrived at the hospital, the compassion was incredible. Everyone we encountered – nurses, doctors, EMS – were incredible,” said Watson. “They stayed with us, cried with us and guided us through the most unimaginable tragedy, losing a child. We have never forgotten that.”
AnnMarie Marcolin, manager of patient, family and community engagement, says she has been very fortunate to have been able to assist Watson and family over the past nine years.
“I witness the impact they have on the patients. And, to be able to see when they hand the gift to the patient – they don’t exclude any area. They go everywhere in the entire hospital. The reaction is a tremendous amount of joy,” said Marcolin.