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Bless a Vet serves those who served

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Christmas came early for more than 40 residents at a White City care home Saturday.

The halls were fully decked at Laurel Pines Retirement Lodge, a long-term care facility that largely serves veterans with disabilities, where members of a Gold Hill church brought them tidings of comfort and joy.

Gold Valley Fellowship gave more than 100 gifts to Laurel Pines residents during the church's fourth annual Bless-A-Vet event, but the church members' presence mattered as much as their presents.

The residents, some in wheelchairs with U.S. Army stickers, and others using canes, filled the care facility's common area to hear the church's lead pastor Dave Gomez lead a short worship service filled with Christmas carols.

Caregiver Kaylee Roussel said it's rare to see a crowd in the dozens when events come to the care facility, but Saturday was different. Some of the residents jumped out of bed “like it’s Christmas morning.”

“It’s a blessing,” Roussel said.

With Gomez’ friend Haven Yates on guitar, the church led residents through songs such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” then they served homebaked cookies and handmade cards.

A man who gave only his first name, Robert, picked out gloves, a stocking cap and a fleece throw blanket, all in a matching set of green camouflage print.

Another resident, who gave only his first name, Al, grabbed two throws — one solid gray and the other the same shade of gray with a blue plaid pattern. Al said he intends to send the second throw to his sister, who lives in Montana.

“Just a little bit of sayin’, ‘Hey, I’m not dead,’” Al said.

Youth pastor Brendon Surgeon said he enjoys hanging out with people at the facility, many of whom live far away from family and get few visitors. Surgeon lamented that there wasn’t time to play board games with them, as he was able to do at last year’s event.

“It’s nice to be able to tell them we appreciate them for serving and love on them,” Surgeon said.

Gomez said he picked the long-term care facility four years ago because he wanted to reach veterans, many of whom end up far away from what little family they have left. He called them “the forgotten of the forgotten.”

Gomez said he also wanted something he could do as a family to show his children that giving back needn’t take much.

“You don’t have to have any special skills,” Gomez said. “You just gotta have love.”

Fellowship member Cindy Headley said her parents both retired from the VA clinic in White City. Caring for veterans is something near and dear to her heart, she said.

“We have to give back to those that keep us safe,” Headley said. “And unfortunately in a lot of these places they’re almost forgotten.”

Though the church event targets veterans with cards made by children thanking them for their service, the event brought just as much holiday cheer to nonveterans, such as resident Roger Paul.

Gomez helped Paul, who is wheelchair bound, fill a napkin with homemade peanut butter cookies.

“Load up, brother,” Gomez told Paul.

The Mail Tribune previously wrote about Paul in early October, when he was days away from being out on the streets after being discharged from another care facility and sent to a motel, despite Paul’s inability to stand for more than a few seconds.

Paul has lived at the White City facility since Oct. 18, a couple weeks after an anonymous high school classmate of Paul’s paid for an extended stay at a Medford motel.

Paul’s mood shifted at times talking about life in the facility, saying he missed life on the streets at times. Gomez, however, kept Paul focused on the positive.

“I’m glad you’re here, staying warm,” Gomez said. “Three meals!”

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneMembers of Gold Valley Fellowship in Gold Hill sign Christmas carols to veterans at Laurel Pines in White City Saturday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneMembers of Gold Valley Fellowship delivered gifts to veterans at Laurel Pines in White City with cards, blankets, hats gloves and snacks Saturday afternoon.