2011-11-10 / Opinions

Shoeboxes show how local folks are still open-hearted and open-handed

By KIP BURKE
news editor

I t’s November, and pretty soon my dining room is going to start filling with warm socks and skin lotion and other small gifts of comfort for Wilkes County seniors. It’s time to fill the Shoeboxes of Love.

It was six years ago now that my wife Margie, disturbed that many of the residents of Wilkes retirement homes and nursing homes would be forgotten at Christmas, started Operation Shoeboxes of Love to bring the joy of the season to every one she could.

I’ve seen her heart for the elderly since we were dating nearly 30 years ago. If I wanted to see Margie on Monday nights, I had to go with her to visit her friends at a local nursing home. She would visit and talk, sing songs and hold hands, and I saw how much her love for them meant to each one she visited. I kinda liked her, too.

She’s still that way. In Washington, she and other volunteers have for years made weekly visits to visit residents of a local nursing home. It was those early visits that made her realize that, while many residents had lots of family visits and gifts for Christmas, for some residents Christmas came and went like just another lonely day. She determined that she would change that, and being the organizing whirlwind that she is, managed to organize the purchase, assembly and delivery some 70 boxes the first year.

When she started out, many of the gifts in the boxes came out of her pocket, and she did most of the work, but volunteers soon came alongside and groups began donating both supplies and money to make each year’s shoeboxes possible.

Now it’s the sixth year of Shoeboxes of Love, and it’s an effort that spans the whole community, with individuals, families, church groups and civic groups working to put together the materials that make up special Christmas gift boxes for seniors. Just tonight, the ladies of Beta Sigma Phi’s Xi Zeta Delta chapter met and put together some 20 Shoeboxes of Love and delivered them to our house. They were the first, and we appreciate them very much.

In the coming weeks, our dining room will fill with shoeboxes, wrapping paper and all the small treasures that will brighten the Christmas of more than 130 local seniors. Margie and volunteers will sort them, check for unhealthy items, and sort how many men’s and how many women’s shoeboxes will be needed at each nursing home. I am entrusted with mule duties, toting and stacking, pickup and delivery.

Then, the week before Christmas, Margie and her small army will fan out to Heritage Health Care Wilkes, Harper’s Personal Care Center, Tignall Assisted Living, Echols Personal Care Home, while Dr. Joe Harris takes care of the folks at Washington Manor. To each elderly person in those homes, they will personally present a Shoebox of Love and tell them that somebody in the Washington-Wilkes community cared enough to make up this gift box just for them.

For some, it’s the only gift, the only visit they’ll get.

Y’all please forgive me if I brag a little on my wife. She won’t. She’ll insist that the whole community makes Shoeboxes of Love come to pass, not just her.

Really, though, that’s true about all of our local efforts to help our neighbors this time of year. We all know people who need a hug or a hand or a gift at Christmastime, and we all feel that heart tug to help. Thank goodness there are sweet souls with the ability to organize who can pull these efforts together, but it’s all of us who help and contribute who make them successful.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ve never seen such an open-hearted, open-handed community, even when times are tough. Especially when times are tough.

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