Aside from baking an array of cookies with her grandmother, a 9-year-old Joliet girl recently adopted another Christmas tradition – making gift bags for hospital patients.
Brooklyn Wyss’ efforts began three years ago as a bonding experience with her mother, Kristen Wyss, who also regularly volunteers as a member of the nonprofit organization Joliet Junior Woman’s Club. The pair started giving gift bags, called “Blessing Bags,” to children and adults at Guardian Angel Home before transitioning to then-Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet two years ago. The hospital is in the process of transitioning to the name AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center.
This year, with her birthday
Dec. 11 and Christmas soon after, Brooklyn wrote a letter to Santa Claus telling him she didn’t need much.
“I feel I don’t need a lot,” the letter read. “I hope you understand.”
Brooklyn’s giving spirit fills her mom with an overwhelming sense of pride.
“I could tear up talking about it,” Wyss said. “She’s literally been like this her whole life.”
To reach family and friends to sponsor gift bags for $25 each, Brooklyn posts live videos on Facebook to discuss her gift bag goals. While she donated about 20 and 30 bags the past two years, respectively, this year yielded 46.
The bags include items such as cookies, socks, lotion, hand sanitizer, body wash, pencils, crossword puzzles, Christmas cups and hot chocolate packets.
Brooklyn makes trips to Dollar Tree and Target with her mother and grandmother to pick out the items. The lotion is more expensive, and Wyss orders it online from the nail company for which she consults. She said she uses the commission from the lotion to buy other items for the bags. Wyss and Brooklyn said they couldn’t do it without the support of generous family and friends.
Half of the donated bags went to the medical oncology unit at St. Joe’s, while the other half went to the rehabilitation unit. Wyss said the pair wanted to keep their donation local to help those in their own backyard.
Not only that, but Wyss delivered Brooklyn and her son at St. Joe’s.
“That was always, of course, special to me,” Wyss said.
This was the first year Brooklyn expanded to the rehabilitation unit, where she was able to roll a cart through the halls, stopping room by room to spread Christmas cheer.
“My two favorite parts of delivering them are that I get to see the people’s reactions, and then I got the cool cart,” Brooklyn said.
Wyss was able to reach the rehab department through her friend and fellow JJWC member Stephanie Lewickas, who is a clinical coordinator in the speech pathology and rehab care department. When Lewickas heard of Brooklyn’s efforts, she hoped they would choose her department to bless.
The mother-daughter duo stopped by on the evening of Dec. 13, joined by Brooklyn’s brother and father.
“Every patient resoundingly said yes,” Lewickas said.
Although the two were not able to reach every room, Lewickas selected patients who were not being discharged the next day. Some people remain in the rehab department for 10 to 12 days, making their total hospital stay a few weeks long.
“We were really concentrating on the people that we knew were going to be there for an extended period of time,” Lewickas said.
Lewickas said one woman Brooklyn visited had just arrived in the rehab unit, and she said her kids didn’t live in town to visit her.
“She just lit up and was so happy,” Lewickas said. “She talked to Brooklyn for a little while, and she said, ‘You made me so happy; I could just cry.’ ”
Another man, who had been in the rehab unit a couple of days, asked the third-grader for a hug. Brooklyn didn’t hesitate.
“I thought that was really neat, too. ... She’s such a brave little girl,” Lewickas said. “It was heartwarming.”
Brooklyn and her gift bags brightened the rooms of many patients, Lewickas said. She said some patients lack support systems in the area, making Brooklyn’s visit all the more special.
Lewickas said many patients talked about Brooklyn’s act of kindness the next day.
“If she could run for president in the next election, I think she would,” Lewickas said. “I’ve never seen such a selfless little person.”
The 9-year-old often tags along to food banks or nonprofit Feed My Starving Children visits with the JJWC, Wyss said. While some kids might be hesitant to attend volunteer events, Brooklyn is eager to lend a helping hand.
From the time Brooklyn started talking, her mom said, the little girl wanted to donate her toys.
“I feel like it’s in her blood,” Wyss said. “She understands how lucky she is.”
Brooklyn said she recently held a peaceful protest at Troy Craughwell Elementary School, when she demanded seat changes and music on the bus. As a result of her protest, the school began allowing kids to switch seats each month.
“She’s 9 going on, I think, 32,” Lewickas said.
Aside from helping others, Brooklyn enjoys shopping, baking, golf and – of course – Christmastime.
“It’s her favorite,” Wyss said.
Brooklyn said she wants to continue her hospital gift bag tradition in the coming years, with the goal of gaining more sponsors than she did this year.
“I don’t think it’s very fun being in the hospital around Christmas, so it would be very nice if everyone could help out,” Brooklyn said. “Have a holly, jolly Christmas!”