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Giving: Hagley woman’s Angel Trees bring gifts to seniors
By Jason Lesley
Sheila Cook says she felt empty on the Christmas after her mother died.
Then she thought about all the seniors celebrating the season alone and found her angel wings.
Cook started asking people what they wanted for Christmas, and her list grew to dozens and dozens of gifts. She put up a tree at the former Piggly Wiggly grocery store at Litchfield and attached dozens of paper angels bearing gift requests. Donors were instructed to return the gifts festively wrapped with the angel on top.
Cook was going on faith that first year. “I thought what’s going to happen if I don’t get these people gifts,” Cook said. “I’ll have to go buy them. My husband said, ‘you’ll get arrested for solicitation,’ but I said, well, I’m doing this.”
People saw the angel tree and felt the Christmas spirit, Cook said. Every person got the gift they wanted.
She remembers going to St. Elizabeth Place for a Christmas party that first year and taking every resident a gift. The manager asked the residents to open their gifts and show what they got, but one man didn’t want to open his. He wanted to save it for Christmas Day. When the manager asked him why, the man said he hadn’t had a Christmas present in years. This one was too pretty to open.
Cook has three trees this year: Electronics Etc., Applewood House of Pancakes and CresCom Bank in Litchfield. Donors have until Dec. 20 to take an angel and buy a gift. She picks the gifts up periodically and sorts them in her garage in the Hagley community.
“Seniors can ask for whatever they want,” she said. She has a code on the angels to keep track of what’s inside each package so the gifts are right. Not everyone has a specific request, and Cook usually gets them new blankets and pillows, toiletries or kitchen supplies.
One person wanted a case of bottled water. Another requested pots and pans. Someone needed a wheelchair. A man took that angel and all the ones left on the tree at Applewood. He bought a wheelchair, filled it with the other gifts and left it under the tree. Cook called to thank him, and he asked how she found him. “Angels have their ways,” she said.
She’s had no trouble finding people to help. “The county has been very, very good to me,” Cook said. “They used to send a van to pick up gifts for the senior centers. They bring a truck now.” Volunteers delivering Meals on Wheels take an angel gift on their last delivery before the holidays. “This is where I’m blessed again,” Cook said. “Those people pick up gifts for me.”
She’s had just one bad year when people didn’t take the angels. “I bought fruit and made everyone a fruit bowl,” she said. “They loved it.”
Cook said she’s been blessed this year with people wanting to help. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “The joy of giving is what it’s all about. I just love it.”