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''Christmas Lady" raises spirits of nursing home residents, veterans

Friday, December 12, 2008 | 2:02 p.m. CST

BONNE TERRE — The eastern Missouri woman dubbed the "Christmas Lady" is back at it this year, gathering gifts for people in nursing homes who might otherwise go without any presents for the holidays.

But with Christmas less than two weeks away, Dorothy Lee needs a little help.

The Bonne Terre woman provided gifts for 870 people last year, including at least 300 veterans. Most of those people have little or no contact with their families.

This year, Lee hopes to do the same but has only about one-third of what she needs to help lonely nursing home residents in nine St. Francois County facilities. She's asking for help from anyone who wants to donate money or items like women's socks, chocolate-covered cherries, deodorant, sugar-free puddings and other goods.

Lee is a former night supervisor at a nursing home. She learned firsthand just how lonely the holidays can be for some residents. Starting 12 years ago, she began gathering gifts, just to show them someone cares.

News articles about her kindness have, over the years, spurred help from strangers. A veteran from Washington, Mo., mailed her several greeting cards, which she will attach to each gift, as well as a label that reads "Merry Christmas. Jesus Loves You." Two kindergarten classes made beaded bracelets.

But Lee still does most of the shopping herself, looking for bargains all year long. Some businesses help out, giving her gift cards or even cash.

But the economy is taking a toll. One business that used to donate to Lee had to stop because of the economic downturn. The recession appears to be keeping some individual donors away as well.

"There's been quite a few donations, but it's not been like it was last year," Lee said. "No small amount is too small. Five dollars can buy five lotions."

Lee said many nursing homes don't supply things like aftershave, tissues or anything with a perfume fragrance. Even those simple gifts are appreciated, she said.

Lee knows just about every one of her nursing home residents by name. She knows a lot about their needs and wants.

She makes sure people with diabetes or special diets or those who have trouble swallowing get food appropriate for them.

Some people require special socks. Some like coloring books or notebooks to draw in.

Not all of the residents are elderly. She bought a doll for one girl who gets sad when she loses at bingo. A boy without a hand will get cars to play with. Last year, a developmentally disabled man told her he wanted a flashing Rudolph nose just like hers, so this year she got him a Rudolph nose and Santa hat.

Lee and her husband, Don, begin delivering the gifts the week before the holiday and will deliver all day on Christmas. She hand delivers each gift.

To make a donation, contact Dorothy Lee at 573-358-3226.

Information from: Park Hills Daily Journal, dailyjournalonline.com.


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