In the midst of COVID-19, an increasing number of children with mental health crises are coming through emergency rooms.

At WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, about 100 kids a year fall into that category.

“This number has grown with the COVID-19 outbreak, and the ER is more stressful now than ever for these children,” Deirdre Carmichael, director of workplace campaigns for United Way of Lebanon County, said in a press release.

Once United Way learned from the hospital’s Lebanon County Crisis Intervention team about the situation, both parties got to work.

The result of their collaboration is Kits of Comfort & Joy. Designed to provide a stress-relieving and positive outlet for children, the kits include a blanket or stuffed animal, an age-appropriate puzzle, a fidget toy, a book and an age-appropriate activity.

The kits will be given to kids while they are waiting in the emergency room for services. And during COVID-19, that wait time has gotten longer, Carmichael told LebTown.

In a nationwide report from mid-November covering April through October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote that “compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health-related visits (to emergency departments) for children aged 5-11 and 12-17 increased approximately 24% and 31%, respectively.”

Carmichael said that Kits for Comfort & Joy is in its collection phase; the public can chip in by purchasing an item (or more) for the kits on United Way’s Amazon wish list.

“We knew that our community would want to do something to help once they were made aware,” Carmichael said in the release.

Some kits are aimed toward younger children and others toward a more teen demographic, she said. The goal is to put together 100 kits for 2021 that match different needs, Carmichael said.

Items on the wish list include “Lots of Knock Knock Jokes for Kids,” by Whee Winn; “Breathe Like a Bear: 30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere,” by Kira Willey and Anni Betts; “Mindfulness for Teens in 10 Minutes a Day: Exercises to Feel Calm, Stay Focused & Be Your Best Self,” by Jennie Marie Battistin; “97 Things to Do Before You Finish High School,” by Steven Jenkins and Erika Stalder; and “Goofy Mad Libs,” by Roger Price and Leonard Stern.

The plan is to distribute the Kits for Comfort & Joy throughout the year in WellSpan Good Samaritan’s emergency room, Carmichael said. “We have just under half the items needed.”

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Paula Wolf worked for 31 years as a general assignment reporter, sports columnist, and editorial writer for LNP Media. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she is a lifetime resident of Lancaster County.

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