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Lights of Love trees help those missing loved ones

Shirley McMarlin
| Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
Melissa Kuhn of Loyalhanna looks for her grandparents' name tag on one of the trees at the 2016 Lights of Love event at Excela Latrobe Hospital.
Kim Stepinsky | For the Tribune-Review
Melissa Kuhn of Loyalhanna looks for her grandparents' name tag on one of the trees at the 2016 Lights of Love event at Excela Latrobe Hospital.
Melody Vigo (center) directs the Derry Area High School Ensemble in 'Sounds of the Season' during the 2016 Lights of Love event in Excela Latrobe Hospital.
Kim Stepinsky | For the Tribune-Review
Melody Vigo (center) directs the Derry Area High School Ensemble in 'Sounds of the Season' during the 2016 Lights of Love event in Excela Latrobe Hospital.
Dr. Edwin McKinnon carries a candle of remembrance during the 2016 Lights of Love event in Excela Latrobe Hospital.
Kim Stepinsky | For the Tribune-Review
Dr. Edwin McKinnon carries a candle of remembrance during the 2016 Lights of Love event in Excela Latrobe Hospital.
Lois and Richard Moon of Youngstown look for the tag bearing the name of their son, Richard Moon Jr., during the 2016 Lights of Love event at Excela Latrobe Hospital.
Kim Stepinsky | For the Tribune-Review
Lois and Richard Moon of Youngstown look for the tag bearing the name of their son, Richard Moon Jr., during the 2016 Lights of Love event at Excela Latrobe Hospital.

“I'll have a blue Christmas without you.”

The words of the old Elvis Presley song illustrate a reality for many people missing loved ones during the holidays.

The Latrobe Area Hospital Aid Society will offer both respite and hope during its Lights of Love event at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5 in Excela Latrobe Hospital.

Prior to the 2004 merger with Excela Health, the hospital was known as Latrobe Area Hospital, the name the aid society retains.

Society members will decorate a Christmas tree with lights representing monetary gifts given in someone's honor or memory.

A book listing donors and honorees will be displayed in the hospital lobby. Special music and speakers also will offer comfort.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Lights of Love.

“Every year, more and more people come, so I believe it's truly a blessing,” says Nancy McKinnon, president-elect of the aid society.

“Never did I dream it would last 30 years,” says Donna McClure of Unity, a current aid society member who was its president when the program began.

McClure says the head of the hospital's volunteer group came to her back in 1987 with “a big box of fundraisers to choose from,” and Lights of Love was the one that resonated the most.

The tree for the inaugural event was donated by the Rolling Rock Club, McClure recalls.

‘A little party'

Lights of Love started as “a little party in the hospital with refreshments,” says Doug Clark of Unity, who was CEO of the hospital at the time. But that small event had great impact from the beginning.

“It's often the gesture itself that is significant, not the magnitude of the gesture,” he says. “Each individual light is not that expensive, but it has a broad-based appeal. One thing that is significant is the symbolism of the lights: the lights of Christmas, the light of the world.

“When they started they didn't know how successful it would be but, like most things the aid society does, it was very successful.”

“We've elevated the program for the anniversary,” McKinnon says.

Cheryl and Lydia Hull, a mother-daughter keyboard-and-violin duo, will perform as guests enter. Siblings Savannah and Tate McElhaney of Latrobe also will sing.

Lights will be dimmed as candles are carried forward representing groups of loved ones, such as children, parents and grandparents. Speaker will be Dr. Carol Fox, Excela Health chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs. “(Lights of Love) comes at the beginning of the holiday season, when we need to set it in our heads what it's all about,” McKinnon says. “It's not just about the gifts and the hustle and bustle, it's about caring for people.”

Life-changing

McKinnon has first-hand proof of the way Lights of Love can affect a life.

While volunteering at the Latrobe hospital, she and husband Ed McKinnon encountered a registered nurse who had stopped celebrating Christmas years earlier after her husband passed away.

The nurse told them that, when a friend purchased a light in her husband's memory, she decided to attend the event.

“She told us after that, ‘I've decided I'm going to start living again. I'm going to celebrate Christmas again,' ” McKinnon says.

Contributions in amounts of $8 or more per name go into the aid society treasury to support various hospital initiatives. Gifts will be accepted through the end of the year.

“Along with LAHAS funds, Lights of Love donations have been used to purchase a wide range of equipment for Excela Latrobe patients; to renovate the mammography suite and emergency room; and to provide other improvements too numerous to list,” McKinnon says.

“It's a very special event for the compassion it shows to people who've lost loved ones,” McClure says. “I think it's a godly thing. It makes people aware that the hospital cares about the patients and the loved ones of the patients.”

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, smcmarlin@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

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