Aaron Schoneberger wears many hats as chair of hospitality for the St. Mary’s Medical Center Auxiliary, from planning quarterly luncheons to conducting team trainings. But one of his most satisfying roles is helping with Holiday at the High-Rise.
Originating as a holiday dinner for Riverview East High-Rise in Guyandotte, it has grown to a day-long event also featuring outings to Walmart, gift cards for residents, and stocking the supplies pantry. The nine-story high-rise houses more than 60 senior citizens from low-income backgrounds.
“You’re overwhelmed with the joy of what you’re doing,” said Schoneberger, a retired retail credit and customer service specialist. “You can put a face with the person receiving the gifts. The whole experience is just great.”
The most recent event saw the distribution of more than $1,600 in gift cards and $1,400 worth of household, food and personal care items for the pantry, all funded by the generous spirit of the St. Mary’s Medical Center staff.
In addition, some 70 meals were served at the dinner, held annually during the holiday season. “Our residents look forward to the St. Mary’s event,” said Tina Sharp, Riverview’s public housing manager since 2016. “It helps them so much.”
Every year, volunteers and hospital employees contribute 100 hours to the project, which began a decade ago through an idea that emerged during a state hospital auxiliary association meeting.
“Although the project began with gift boxes for residents, it later shifted to seeking monetary donations to purchase pantry supplies and gift cards. In addition, St. Mary’s chef, Jamison Ugland, prepares a meal, for which the medical center bears the cost, and the St. Mary’s Auxiliary organizes and purchases all the gifts and pantry items,” said Julie Neal, Director of Volunteer Services.
Cynthia LeMaster, Riverview’s elderly service coordinator, recalls being “flabbergasted” the first time the St. Mary’s van pulled up with supplies collected for the pantry.
“The residents love ‘Pantry Day,’” LeMaster said. “When you get $750 a month and $200 goes to rent, it doesn’t stretch very far.”
“In a world that seems entitlement-oriented, we develop strong bonds with the residents and they express so much gratitude for us being there,” Schoneberger said. “It’s very heart-warming.”
Note: You can watch a video highlighting the 2022 Holiday at the High-Rise project by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpAH9eah1ps&t=9s.