Sheriff’s Office staff brightens the holidays for the most vulnerable – of all ages

Discover how volunteers at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office find joy in sharing during this Christmas season in these two heart-warming stories …

Menlo Park Health Care resident Joy Benz says she was thrilled to be included in the Holiday event organized by their facility’s activity director, Becky Bilyeu, and made possible by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office volunteers, under the direction of Rhoda English.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Green has traditionally been a Christmastime color. And, the men and women who serve at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) helped further establish the connection between green (the color of their uniforms) and this Holiday season.

How? By throwing parties for two adopted groups – one old, and one young.

Holiday in Menlo Park

Menlo Park staff and MCSO volunteers welcome some of the facility’s 55 residents to the activity room for a Christmas Party.

On December 16, MCSO staff and deputies converged on Menlo Park Health Care, an adult skilled nursing care facility on NE 122nd Avenue.

“This is important because many of residents here don’t have any families,” noted Becky Bilyeu, Menlo Park’s activity director. “This year, they’re getting a real Christmas; everyone one here is getting something for Christmas this year, thanks to the Sheriff’s Office.”

Rhoda English, organizer of the event for MCSO said they decided to “adopt” Menlo Park patients after Bilyen contacted her. “This is a gift from the Sheriff’s Office management, employees, and volunteers. In addition to deputies, other employees, including records technicians, volunteers, property room personnel, management – all of them contributed.”

After working her graveyard shift at the Inverness Jail, MCSO Sgt. Louise Moaning, smiles as she helps bring gifts into the Menlo Park Health Center activity room.

MCSO Sgt. Diana Olsen welcomes Santa Claus (a/k/a/ Deputy Don Bryant) to the facility, along with Sgt. Louise Moaning, and MCSO’s Public Information Officer, Lieutenant Mary Lindstrand.

After getting a “wish list” from residents, English said MCSO staffers went to work, filling detailed requests.

“Really, the residents weren’t asking for much – mostly simple, personal items,” English told us. “These are things that are easy for us to get, like clothing, Q-tips, tissue, and other personal supplies. And, the gift stockings are beautiful – many of them are gorgeous works of art; all handmade by some of our volunteers.”

Residents gather to enjoy holiday treats, and gifts – many of them piled into a sleigh hand-built by MCSO Deputy Don Bryant.

English called herself “Just an ordinary employee of MCSO for 20 years.” But, as resident, Joy Benz said, “This means a wonderful Christmas for us all, I’m so happy. This is a very kind thing they’ve done for us.”

“This makes all of us feel so good to be able to give something back, especially to our senior citizens,” English responded.

Sheriff’s Office hosts Transition School
party at Inverness Jail

Some of the many staff members and volunteers from the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office finish stacking gifts for their guests: kids from Portland’s Community Transition School.

Two days later, on December 18, MCSO volunteers hosted another party – complete with lunch and gifts, this time for young people.

“Here at the Inverness Jail, we have the room to host the 21st Annual Community Transitional School holiday party,” Lieutenant Mary Lindstrand, MCSO’s Public Information Officer told us.

Getting “high-fives” from the kids at each table, Portland Trail Blazers’ mascot, Blaze, always gets the youngsters ready for the fun events to follow.

“In addition to the gifts, these kids will be treated to entertainment, and a personal visit with Santa,” Lindstrand reported. “These 85 children are from foster homes, or are homeless – they are kids who don’t have a real home. So, we’re giving them a Christmas party in our ‘home’.”

The large room was brightly decorated in a Christmas theme. “We also involve the inmates; they help us decorate the room before the children come,” Lindstrand pointed out. “It gives them the chance to give to back to the community during the Holiday season. The female inmates who helped us with this were very happy, and said they enjoyed being able to participate. And, they did a wonderful job decorating this room!”

The most important gift: JOY
Asked why MCSO workers put so much time and effort into the event, Lindstrand answered immediately: “These kids did not make their situation, whether their parents are homeless – or may actually be in jail. We want to make sure these young people have a Christmas.”

Lindstrand introduced us to Liz Daily, a program supervisor for the security unit at the Sheriff’s Office – one of the many volunteers at the event. “One year, a child requested a set of bed sheets for Christmas. Everybody wondered why he wanted bed sheets. He told us that, because he was moved from house to house – sometimes nightly – he just wanted to have his own bedding.”

Daily pointed out that each child gets four gifts: Two clothing items, and two toys. “While Transition School helps these youngsters get two good meals a day, as well as an education in an accepting environment, many of them would not have a Christmas at all if it were not for this.”

“There are no words that can actually describe the joy I feel,” Lindstrand added, “when you look at the kids faces, here the party, having fun – and opening their presents. It gives them a chance to share in the joy of the Holiday.”

Part of the tradition is the Carol Sing – led by MCSO Deputies!

Cost to taxpayers: $0.00
The event is entirely funded by donations by MCSO staff members, retirees, volunteers and their families, Lindstrand said. “Staff members and volunteers buy and wrap all the gifts. The food is donated as well; and we again thank Izzy’s Pizza, who will be bringing in pizza for the event.”

Juggler and entertainer extraordinaire Rhys Thomas was standing by to entertain the kids who were being greeted by the Portland Trail Blazers’ mascot, Blaze. “It’s hard not to feel a tug on your heartstrings when you see some of the same kids here, sometimes a couple of years in a row. But, these kids are stunningly resilient. Here, at this special time, we make it possible for them to just be kids.”

Multnomah County Sheriff Daniel Staton leads the ceremony to make the kids honorary deputy sheriffs.

Sworn to go “green”
After the deputies led singing Christmas carols, Multnomah County Sheriff Daniel Staton stepped up and greeted the group. “I was thinking but giving a big speech. But, as I sat down at a table and met some of these great kids, I asked them to step up front with me instead. I do want to tell you how happy I am to be here. We are really proud to be here with you, wishing you a Merry Christmas.”

Sheriff Staton asked everyone to stand in preparation for being sworn in as Honorary Deputies.

“Raise your right hand,” Staton began.

“I, state your name,” and as if on cue, everyone in the room repeated the words “State your Name” – which got a hearty, if unintentional laugh!

“I promise to be respectful of all people. This includes my parents, and teachers. To be responsible and safe, be honest, and good to everyone. To be creative, and imaginative.  To do my homework, to have fun and laugh a lot. To be the best kid I can be. And, to make my favorite color green!

“I, Sheriff Daniel Staton of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office, hereby bestow on each of you the title of honorary deputy sheriff.”

The Pacific Northwest’s premier variety arts entertainer, Rhys Thomas, teaches MCSO spokesperson Lt. Mary Lindstrand how to balance a spinning ball on her fingertip. (She’s a quick study!)

“Although the jail doesn’t have a chimney,” Lindstrand noted, “Santa has been granted access to the building. This is an event, and an opportunity, to give much needed love and support to these kids, and a boost toward breaking the cycle of poverty and homelessness that is their norm. We all feel it’s a wonderful way to get into the Holiday spirit.”

We agree.

Students from the Community Transition School present this huge “thank you poster”, in response for the kindness they’ve been shown.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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