A heartfelt delivery for seniors

Volunteers: Members of the St. Joseph Catholic Community make and deliver Valentine's greetings to nursing home residents.

February 14, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Julie Harrigan and her four children spent Friday among fresh flowers, frilly Valentine cards and grilled cheese sandwiches.

The children, all home-schooled, joined the annual Valentine project at St. Joseph Catholic Community in Sykesville. Emily, 11, cut stems to fit bud vases and then helped make lunch for the volunteers. Her younger brothers, Brendan, 10, and Seamus, 9, carried boxes of flowers and vases to tables where dozens of volunteers arranged bouquets. Therese, 2, chocolate cookie in hand, watched from her highchair.

"We are getting flowers ready to give to elderly people," Brendan said.

This year was a first for the Harrigans but the sixth time the St. Joseph congregation has treated its neighbors to Valentine greetings. Volunteers put together more than 500 bouquets and about 1,000 cards Friday, delivering them to area nursing homes Saturday.

"It just keeps growing every year," said Doris Wagner, the Valentine project's chairwoman. "The cards are incredible, and they came from children as young as 3 years old. Many are addressed: `Dear, Senior.'"

Harrigan usually devotes Fridays to different learning activities, often involving community service.

Her children have visited nursing homes and a friend confined to home because of illness. The Valentine project seemed ideal, she said.

"I want my children to be part of helping their community, especially the elderly," she said.

Residents at Fairhaven Retirement Community and Copper Ridge, which cares for people suffering from dementia, have become accustomed to receiving the Valentine gifts, said Stephen Vozzella, director of activities and volunteer services at Fairhaven and Copper Ridge.

"This means somebody cares, and it makes a nice decor for their rooms," Vozzella said. "Most of them keep them at their bedsides, and the carnations last. But it means more than flowers; it is social interaction. They respond so well, especially to the children."

With the organization of an assembly line, the volunteers arranged perky red carnations, white baby's breath, lush ferns and a tiny felt heart in a bud vase.

They tied a red bow around the vase, finishing off the arrangement with a tag that read, "Wishing you a very blessed and happy Valentine's Day."

"What could be easier than four things and a vase?" said Charlotte Drummond, 76, who estimated that she had made several dozen arrangements.

Carol Ann Laney favors carnations over traditional Valentine's Day roses.

"Carnations will keep longer, and roses can be gone in a day," she said.

The Harrigans and many other parish families were to deliver the floral arrangements and the cards, made by parish children and pupils at Carrolltowne Elementary, to nursing homes and shut-ins Saturday.

Therese Conlon's children had written messages in dozens of their handmade cards. Meaghan, 14, even "got poetic," Conlon said. The three children offered to deliver flowers, too, she said.

"This is a good activity to remind kids that they are not the center of the universe," she said. "It helps them look outside themselves and realize others need them."

The annual project began with the Sheens Colleens, the women's auxiliary of the Knights of Columbus, which organized the first giveaway and spent the better part of a night arranging flowers in a living room, Evans said. It quickly outgrew one household and drew many volunteers.

"The next year, we had to move to the parish hall," Evans said. "The place has never smelled so good."

The outlay is minimal. Proceeds from the sale of sweat shirts printed with the St. Joseph logo and wooden replicas of the church paid for the flowers.

The vases, gathered from attics, flea markets and yard sales, are recycled each year. The South Carroll Senior Center helped make the felt hearts.

"I know firsthand how much this means to shut-ins," said Sharon Parker, who saw the activity listed in the parish bulletin and showed up to help Friday. "If I am blue, I want to be around flowers. These are small enough for a nightstand."

Evans counted and packed the finished arrangements into cartons and then labeled each box with the address of its destination.

"We call the nursing homes and get a final count to make sure we have enough for each person," she said.

Within a few hours Friday, the volunteers had finished making bouquets and were enjoying each other's company over lunch.

"It really is not much time out of our day, and you end up making someone else happy," said Rose Ann Douglass.

If anyone needed reminding of the happiness generated, they only had to peruse the scrapbooks filled with photos and thank-you notes from recipients of previous flower giveaways.

For Carol McCuen, president of Sheens Colleens, giving up a vacation day to do floral work has its rewards.

"This little thing means so much," she said. "Their smiles just light up the room."

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