The Greyson Project — the brainchild of Winter Garden resident Rene Porter — is spreading Christmas cheer to hospitalized children in 13 states.
Although the holidays are meant to be colorful, cheery and bright, it isn’t always that way when you find yourself in a hospital room this time of year.
That’s the situation Winter Garden resident Rene Porter’s friends found themselves in seven years ago, when they spent the holiday season in the hospital with their 1-year-old son, Greyson.
It’s also the reason The Greyson Project is heading into its third season, with a mission to spread some holiday cheer to children in hospitals near and far.
THE GREYSON PROJECT
In November 2010, the Heineke family suddenly found themselves at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children with little Greyson. They were there up through the new year and sadly had to say goodbye to their little boy.
But to make their hospital room feel a bit more like home, they had received a care package from family back home. In the package was everything they needed to decorate Greyson’s room for Christmastime.
“My husband and I were really just kind of impacted by that and felt the difference in our visit from the previous week to that week,” Porter said. “Every time we decorate our home, we think about that this time of year and what we went through with my friends. My oldest remembers Greyson so we thought, what a great family project to do together in his memory and help with our healing from his loss.
“We decided to make a bag with our children and give it (to the hospital), because we knew what it was like to be in the hospital during that time and knew they (patients) could use a little uplifting,” Porter said.
They called Nemours Children’s Hospital to ask about bringing in their donation. The hospital staff loved the idea so much that they wanted to know how many bags the Porters had.
“We were kind of caught off guard and not knowing how many families don’t get to go home (for Christmas), because it’s usually pretty extreme circumstances,” she said. “We heard from them that they knew by that point they would have at least four families in the hospital they knew couldn’t go home. We didn’t want anyone sitting in a cold, sterile hospital room.”
Community members began to pitch in to help out with gathering bags of decorations. Before they knew it, the Porters had collected 71 bags of decorations in three weeks. Some were taken to Arnold Palmer and others to Nemours.
Last season, The Greyson Project expanded to serving nine hospitals in five states and ended up delivering 488 bags of decorations.
This year it’s grown even more. To date, people from 13 different states are creating holiday bags for 23 hospitals, and it’s only the second week of December.
“We’ve been really busy this past year prepping for another holiday season, not knowing what to expect,” Porter said. “It’s been incredible. Already in the first two weeks we’ve delivered 185 bags. It’s definitely a group effort. None of us ever really expected such an amazing response from the communities.”
SPREADING SEASONAL CHEER
Now with a few seasons’ worth of experience collaborating with various hospitals’ child-life departments, Porter has found out what hospitals can and cannot accept and has been able to streamline the process for others who want to help.
“We collaborate with the child-life departments, pull together the collection of bags, get them in one place and inspect them,” she said. “The departments are pretty much the heartbeat for the families that are there. They do anything and everything they can to create a sense of normalcy for the children at such a scary moment in their little world. We do our best to expedite the process for them because this time of year in our hospitals is crazy.”
Although The Greyson Project’s reach has expanded quickly in three holiday seasons, the majority of the collections remain local. The Winter Garden and Clermont communities played a large role, Porter said, in providing Nemours and Arnold Palmer with the bags last year.
And at the rate of this season’s collection, they likely also will provide many bags to Florida Hospital for Children. The Greyson Project will be collecting the bags through Dec. 21 and distribute the last batches that weekend.
“It’s been a beautiful thing to watch grow, and there’s really something to be said for all of these communities and the people that step in,” Porter said. “And it’s not a bunch of generic trees or lights coming their way — it’s a care package that’s been put together. I think the power behind that is huge.”