Tree of Love glows

Published 3:23 pm Thursday, December 6, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – For their dedicated years of volunteerism with the Lakeland Auxiliary board, Roberta Garcia and Kay Welsh had the honor of lighting the 2007 Midge Tyler Tree of Love in front of the dozens gathered at Lakeland Hospital-Niles Wednesday evening.
Together, Garcia and Welsh have donated more than 14,330 hours of their time with the hospital.
"They both exemplify what being in the auxiliary is about. They are the type of volunteers I strive to be like," Lakeland Auxiliary President Deb Touhey said.
Welsh began volunteering in the summer of 1998 in the gift shop and became active with the Auxiliary Board soon after. Garcia started as a coffee shop volunteer in 1993, then began volunteering in the gift shop as an assistant candy buyer.
As buyers of the DreamCatcher gift shop, both have contributed immensely and helped it to be the largest hospital fundraiser for many years.
"It's really an honor to honor everyone we are remembering," Garcia said after lighting the tree.
"This is just wonderful. It reminds us of how thankful we are for our loved ones," Welsh added.
The Tree of Love is a way of remembering loved ones who have passed. Each light commemorates the gift of a life and of the love that will always remain in our hearts for that person. In the weeks leading up to the lighting, community members were able to sponsor a light on the Tree of Love with a donation of $5 or more. All monies raised will help the hospital purchase lockable medical cabinets for the Intensive Care Unit.
"This is my favorite part of the holiday season. It reminds us all of those who are special to us," Touhey said.
"This whole event tonight is about memories. It's about the people we love, remember and honor. Some of you are suffering this season and that's why you're here. When I lost my son 12 years ago, the only event that helped me at Christmas was this tree lighting. You can drive by this tree as much as you want and know that your loved ones light is there," Chris Vella said.
The lights on the Tree of Love have been lit in memory of hundreds of people. The names can be viewed in the lobby of the hospital and will be updated throughout December as donations are still being accepted.
"It's time we take a look around us and care for everyone in our lives. This is a time to remember the soldiers who are risking their lives for us everyday. It's a time to embrace our families. This is your chance to become a lighthouse. People have many ways of leading others out of darkness and to safety. Remember the reason for the season," Director of Operations at Lakeland, Debra Johnson said.
The Sweet Adelines filled the hallways of the hospital with music and led everyone in Silent Night after the tree was lit.