IOWA CITY — No one is quite certain how the Mercy Hospital Foundation’s annual holiday time fundraiser, Love Lights, got started.
Margaret Reese, president of the Mercy Hospital Foundation — a not-for-profit organization that supports Iowa City’s Mercy Hospital — said she knows it was started 30 years ago by the foundation’s first president, Emilie Rubright.
What Reese does know is that the event has grown and grown with each year.
“The first 10 years, basically the ceremony took place in the lobby of the hospital,” Reese said. “There was a platter of cookies, hot cider and a little ceremony and a little prayer. The lights were strung on trees right outside the entrance.”
Over the years, the event — which culminates with the lighting of holiday lights on the corner of Johnson and Market streets that remain on through the month of December — has moved to a conference room and then to a bigger conference room. Now, the event has become so large it is held at the nearby Zion Lutheran Church. For several years now, attendance for the event has topped 800 people.
“It’s really a lovely thing,” Reese said.
Each of the Love Lights represents a donation of $10, an amount that hasn’t changed since the event’s inception. Reese said the donations are often made in honor of someone — living or dead — and can include family, friends, nurses or others. Even nursing units at the hospital have been honored.
“Many give them as a small gift for Christmas,” Reese said. “There’s a whole range of reasons to give the gift of a Love Light.”
Reese said the Oaknoll Retirement Residence and Hills Bank & Trust Company have sponsored the event for the past 17 years. As with other funds raised by the foundation, donations to the Love Lights program directly benefit Mercy Hospital.
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The fundraiser has brought in about $46,000 this year, Reese said. Those funds will go to Mercy Hospice Care.
Julie Adam, the nurse manager who oversees the hospice unit, said they have benefited from the Love Lights event several times.
“It’s crucial,” she said of the donations.
The hospice unit provides a valuable service to the community, but is not a “moneymaking proposition,” Adam said. The funds from Love Lights have gone to equipment for the unit, comfortable blankets and linens, and even CD players so patients can listen to music they like, Adam said.
Adam said Mercy Hospice is looking into expanding the patients it serves to include those who don’t qualify for hospice care under Medicare regulations.
“(The Mercy Hospital Foundation) is going to be key to that if we get that going,” she said.
With that in mind, while Reese doesn’t know how the event got started, she doesn’t see it ending any time soon.
“We plan to continue it forever,” Reese said.
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