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Mary Benech

Holiday cheer

If she actually sat down to do the math, this 33-year member of the Auxiliary would find she has invested more than 10,000 hours in volunteer services for patients and visitors to Community Hospital. But that doesn't include the 120 trimmed stockings Mary Benech hand-made last year to distribute to patients hospitalized at Christmas, or the 30 larger stockings she made to swaddle Christmastime babies heading home from the hospital.

Benech was at it again by the start of summer, having picked up supplies for the first 50 stockings toward her goal of 150 or more for the 2007 holiday season.

"I do it," says Benech, who was named Volunteer of the Month in February 2007, "because I enjoy it, and because it has given me something to do ever since my husband Henry passed away four years ago. Instead of watching TV, I go into my little room to do some sewing. Mostly I do it because I have seen firsthand how much joy it brings the patients to receive a stocking on Christmas day."

Cut from felt and trimmed in lace with a ribbon tied around the top and a teddy bear tucked inside, each stocking might take Benech an hour to complete. But she prefers to set them up in an assembly line, moving them along, step by step, until all are finished at once. Sometimes she'll work four hours straight or right through a weekend.

And this is in addition to volunteering at the hospital's reception desk, bloodmobile, and Fountain Court Café, where she serves meals three times a month.

Born at home in Monterey and a graduate of Monterey High School, Benech calculates how long she has lived on the Peninsula by her most recent birthday. Her June 21 celebration marked 80 years for the Peninsula native, who has never imagined living anywhere else.

"I never think of my age," she says. "If I did, I might feel old. I volunteer for the hospital and for the Alliance on Aging, as well as for the Monterey County Fair in the agriculture building. I also volunteer at the hospital's Cancer Survivors' Day in August. My identical twin sister Louise is a survivor, and she volunteers there too. She also helps me with the stockings by doing some pinning."