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Hospice of San Joaquin’s Tree of Lights 35th Anniversary: Celebrating Loved Ones

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Photo by Dave Skinner

Anyone who has been to Stockton in December has probably seen the awe-inspiring holiday tree in front of Delta Community College. But not everyone knows the story and meaning behind this magical sight.

Sandy Stoddard, director of development and marketing for Hospice of San Joaquin, described the lighting of this extraordinary tree. “The Tree of Lights event is incredibly happy and uplifting, a ceremony to celebrate others, both loved ones who are here with us and those who have passed on. For everyone who attends, it’s a wonderful kickoff to the holiday season, creating happy new memories while reliving old ones.”

During the Tree of Lights ceremony, a choir performs holiday music as a prelude to the dramatic lighting of the tree, then cookies and hot cocoa are served for all to enjoy. This year’s event occurred November 21 in front of Delta Community College on Pacific Avenue in Stockton. Eight other cities across San Joaquin County will hold tree lighting ceremonies; December lightings are Rio Vista and Lockeford, December 2; Tracy, December 3. Donations are always welcome and can be made specifically for the Tree of Lights through the end of the year.

Weeks before the ceremony, PG&E volunteers place the lights on the tree in preparation for the event. Then, Sandy elaborated, “As part of our 25-minute ceremony, we celebrate those volunteers as well.” Mark Rasmussen, a PG&E employee, started this tradition 35 years ago to honor his late wife, Kathy. A fellow PG&E employee, Dave Ayers, created on-site memory boards displaying the names of all the loved ones who have a light on the tree. Those memory boards are available for viewing in person and online year-round on the Hospice of San Joaquin website.

A Broad Range of Services
Sandy revealed that most people are quite surprised to discover Hospice of San Joaquin offers not just inpatient care, but a broad range of services to the community. From grief counseling to Camp Caterpillar, a day camp for kids who have lost a loved one, to in-home assistance and pediatric care, there is an extraordinary variety of ways that HSJ cares for the needs of families and individuals of all ages. Their fundraisers, which take place each season, are well-known events and great fun for everyone. “In addition to our Tea, Eggstravaganza, Kentucky Derby West and the February Lobster Boil, there are many other special events and so many wonderful ways to support and connect with one another,” she described.

Many Ways to Help and Volunteer
HSJ’s Memory Bear volunteers regularly lend their skills to sew a bear from a loved one’s clothing item for the family. “We currently have about six volunteers doing this,” said Sandy. Quilters also gather to make cozy comforters for pediatric patients, and a much larger group known as Butterflies coordinates all the events throughout the year. This auxiliary group is divided into Lodi, Stockton and Tracy, providing an enjoyable and meaningful way to be of service to the local community.

Sandy finds that when she is at events doing outreach on behalf of Hospice of San Joaquin, people are eager to express their gratitude. “People come up to me all the time to say thank you. People whose families received help from our organization are forever grateful and that’s a wonderful feeling,” she said. The organization also receives many thank you letters and ensures the letters are shared with HSJ’s staff for the work they do. On the website, one man gave them five stars and wrote, “Truly a caring organization. Every interaction with every single person was friendly, warm and professional. Would recommend highly.”

The benefits and blessings that come from being of service to others are truly immeasurable. For those who want to get involved, the process is very well organized. “Our volunteers are given training that doesn’t take very long at all, and they get to choose where and how they would like to volunteer. It might be in-office or it might be at one of our special events or becoming part of a family team. We help them find the right spot and it’s very fulfilling,” Sandy explained.

For more information about Tree of Lights and other Hospice of San Joaquin Services, visit