- Associated Press - Saturday, December 24, 2016

ST. PETER, Minn. (AP) - Lisa and Ashley Ebbengae have around 400 names on their Christmas shopping list each year.

The mother and daughter have never met most of the people on their list and won’t get to see their gifts being unwrapped, the Mankato Free Press (https://bit.ly/2ifAGYl ) reported. Their only reward for their dozens to hundreds of hours of volunteer time is knowing they are brightening the holidays of people who might not otherwise receive a single gift.

Lisa and Ashley are the Santas of the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

For approximately 30 years, Lisa, 56, has led the hospital’s gift drive. Ashley, 32, has helped her mother since she was in elementary school. They raise funds, collect wish lists, shop and package gifts.

The mother-daughter gift-giving tradition in the unusual location started because Lisa’s husband and Ashley’s father worked at the hospital that provides treatment programs for Minnesotans determined by the courts to be mentally ill and dangerous. The adjacent Minnesota Sex Offender Program has a separate gift-giving program with which the Ebbengaes are not involved.

There was talk of hanging up their Santa hats this year after their family member retired. But then during a summer visit to organize Santa’s workshop, a passing patient stopped to give Lisa her requests for this Christmas. The visit inspired Lisa and her daughter to carry on to fulfill that wish and nearly 400 more this year. As for next year, they say they are still undecided.

Volunteer Services Coordinator Angi Proehl is trying to convince them to stay another few years.

“I don’t know what I would do without them,” she said.

The holiday gifts are one of the volunteer-driven programs Proehl oversees.

“It’s one of a lot of wonderful things that happen out here that the public doesn’t hear about,” Proehl said.

The Ebbengaes, however, don’t need much overseeing.

“We have a system. We have it down to a science,” Ashley said.

By early fall they send out letters requesting monetary donations as well as donations of commonly requested gifts. Most of the benefactors are churches and community organizations that have been providing support for many years, Lisa said. The Ebbengaes collect most of the gifted items since organizations can’t easily deliver them to the secured campus.

In October they send out wish list forms to staff who help each patient fill in their requests.

Many of the wish lists come back with humble requests: socks, underwear, toothbrushes, a blanket and other essentials most of us take for granted, the Ebbengaes said.

Many crave for favorite treats that are not available at the hospital. Ramen noodles and cheese balls were among the snack requests this year.

The Ebbengaes, who live just outside of St. Peter, start sorting the wishes in November. With a budget of $25 to $35 per patient they select a few items off each person’s list.

Then they check their well-organized inventory of items that have been gifted or already purchased when a bargain was spotted. Then they make a lengthy shopping list of requested items they don’t have in stock.

They check most the items off their list on Thanksgiving night and Black Friday. The search for some harder to find requests continues into December, complicated by the fact that they can only shop at select retailers with which the security hospital has a spending account.

This year’s challenges included a Bible in the Thai language, which they found on an approved online retailer and used coupons to acquire it within budget.

The only item they weren’t able to check off their list was a Snoop Dog CD. Lisa said she gave up after several hours of searching and will have to find a something else lower on the patient’s list.

The final step is sorting and packing the gifts in gift bags that have been used over and over again. Many of the donated and bought on clearance bags started their lives as birthday bags but have been transformed with some taped-on wrapping paper.

Staff who work with the patients are invited up to Santa’s workshop as the Ebbengaes work unit by unit filling the requests. Staff provide extra guidance sometimes not clear from the wish lists, such as which color of available pajamas a patient would prefer.

“They’re beyond angels,” recreational therapist Annette Schatz said about the Ebbengaes during a visit to their workshop.

Like the real Santa, the Ebbengaes don’t get to see their gifts opened. For security reasons only staff get the pleasure of distributing the gifts. Their reward is the second-hand accounts from staff of the joy their gifts bring.

“It’s work but it’s fun,” Lisa said. “It gets you into the Christmas spirit.”


Information from: The Free Press, https://www.mankatofreepress.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide