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Mayors' Christmas Motorcade collects gifts for mental health hospital patients

POSTED: December 11, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Carol LaMonica, left, the Gainesville Community Service Center's senior secretary, and Karina Costantini, the deputy director, go through some of the items donated for the 2008 Mayors' Christmas Motorcade this year.

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Imagine being in a hospital for a month with no visitors, no reminders of home and no other connection to the world outside of the four walls in your room.

Now multiply that month times 12.

While that may seem like a vision too stark for some people to imagine, it is actually a harsh reality for many patients at Georgia’s seven mental health hospitals.

To help brighten the holidays for those patients, many Georgia cities are participating in the annual Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade.

"This is the 50th year for the mayors’ motorcade. It’s a statewide program; not everyone participates, but Gainesville has participated each year," said Carol LaMonica, who is coordinating the program in Gainesville.

The mayors’ motorcade was started in 1958 by the Georgia Municipal Association. Cities are asked to collect gifts and monetary donations to be donated to nearby mental health hospitals.

The goal of the program is to not only bring a little holiday cheer to the seven regional mental health hospitals but also to raise awareness about the needs of the facilities’ residents.

"The gifts that we are asking for, for the patients are simple things, things that help to make the hospital feel more like home," LaMonica said. "If you were in the hospital for a long time, what would you want? Probably things like fuzzy socks, warm pajamas and something to help pass the time."

Some of the items that are being collected are arts-and-crafts supplies, personal toiletry items and cotton warm-up suits.

"The gifts are simple things, but they mean a lot to the people who will receive them at the hospital," LaMonica said.

Donated items should be new and unwrapped, and will be collected through Monday. All of the items and donations collected in Gainesville will be donated to the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome, which provides service to patients from Hall County.

Donations can be made at any of the four Gainesville fire departments or at the Gainesville Community Service Center on Prior Street.

GMA officials say that the mayors’ motorcade is an important tradition to continue because the donations will serve as the only holiday gift that some of the patients will receive.

"For the patients at the hospitals who can’t be in their hometown for the holidays, this helps to bring a piece of their hometown to them," said Amy Henderson, the public information manager for the Georgia Municipal Association.

"This is a once-a-year event that allows communities to give to the hospitals all year long with just one donation. If some of the gifts that are collected during the holiday season are left over, they are used throughout the year for the patients during birthday celebrations and other events."

While a tough economy has affected the wallets of many individuals and corporations this year, charities are no exception.

"As with organization or business, we would like to be able to surpass the donations that we made last year," LaMonica said. "But that may or may not happen. Last year, we were able to present the hospital with a check for more than $3,000, but so far we haven’t even reached $1,000 yet."



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