At Trinity Lutheran Church Tuesday afternoon, a dozen or so people were breaking their backs lugging trash bag after trash bag into a parked van in front of the building.
These bags weren’t filled with trash headed for the dumpster, though. They were filled to the rim with clothes, necessities and gifts headed for Western State Hospital in Lakewood.
And according to hospital staff, it was the largest donation in recent memory, perhaps ever.
“The hospital was absolutely amazed by the amount of the donation,” Trinity Lutheran Church member Linda Plitkins said. “They said they had never received such a large donation.”
A request for comment to the hospital’s media department was not returned by press time.
The inpatient psychiatric hospital, one of the largest west of the Mississippi River with 800 beds, has grabbed its fair share of headlines in the recent past for the wrong reasons. Issues with funding and staffing and a series of patient escapes, some with violent histories, have made the news in the past year. The lack of funding has left patients with a lack of household items and entertainment.
Thanks to members of prayer groups from St. Hubert Catholic Church and Trinity Lutheran Church, some of that void will be filled just in time for Christmas.
Volunteers from both churches collected donations throughout October that Western State staff said the hospital was sorely lacking in sweatshirts, hoodies, cosmetics, lap quilts, baseball caps and board games for entertainment. Plitkins said the lack of funds at the state hospital not only means patients don’t have some of those basic items, but the tight purse strings don’t allow room for an advertising budget to let surrounding communities in Western Washington know what the hospital needs.
“The lack of an advertising budget means people don’t know there is a need, so they don’t donate and it’s just a vicious cycle,” Plitkins said.
The collaborative effort between the Catholic and Lutheran churches came as a result of the late Bob Taylor, who had a habit of floating from church to church on the South End to join the various prayer groups. Taylor, who died in August, had a family member who suffered from a mental illness and is currently a patient at Western State. Familial mental illness and the psychiatric hospital regularly came up in conversation, and when the various prayer groups met at Taylor’s funeral, they decided to do something in his honor and collect gifts for patients.
They never imagined they’d receive enough donations to fill an entire van.
“The director for volunteer services at the hospital kept repeating they have never received so many donations,” St. Hubert’s parishioner Jean Beers said. “She said they might have gotten a suitcase full of things, but we had a van full.”
Organizers of the donation effort aim to encourage people to talk about mental illness and break the stigma they say surrounds the discussion. Plitkins says mental illness affects many people and their families, yet most are still uncomfortable talking about it. And according to Beers, it’s a conversation that must be started due to much of the violence seen in today’s society.
“This is such an important issue for this time, because we’re getting so much more aware of underlying things that cause violence in our society and we must address it,” Beers said. “Mental illness causes some instances of violence, and those who are suffering need our support. This is our bit.”