BONNE TERRE — Dorothy Lee has a simple goal: No nursing home resident in her area of eastern Missouri should wake up on Christmas Day without a gift.
Dubbed the "Christmas Lady," Lee is already filling Christmas gift bags that will be distributed to residents and veterans who live at nine facilities in St. Francois County.
The Park Hills Daily Journal reported that Lee of Bonne Terre and helper Sue Crocker look for bargains throughout the year, visiting places such as Walmart, Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Deals in search of goodies that will fill more than 1,000 Christmas gift bags. Lee also takes donations from the community and said she could still use sweat shirts, socks, men's scarves and sock caps, along with throws for the wheelchair bound.
"The question is: Will we have enough to fill all the bags?" she said.
Lee has earned much recognition for her efforts. In August, she won the Commerce Bank and William T. Kemper Foundation 2011 Community Service Award, given each year to recognize someone who works diligently toward community betterment and the enhancement of the lives of others.
As part of her award, Lee was given a check for $7,500. She gave all of it to the St. Francois County Board for the Developmentally Disabled. The money will help finish a fitness trail for a group home.
In September, Lee officially registered with the Missouri Secretary of State as the "Christmas Lady."
She began her program 14 years ago with 14 nursing home patients; it has grown to about 1,000 patients.
Many of the nursing home-bound residents helped by Lee have little or no contact with their families.
Lee is a former night supervisor at a nursing home who learned firsthand how lonely the holidays can be for some residents.
News articles over the years have spurred kindness from strangers, including veterans groups and kindergarten classes. Individuals and several businesses help Lee by donating items or giving her deals on bulk items.
Lee knows just about every one of her nursing home residents by name. She makes sure people with diabetes or special diets or those who have trouble swallowing get food appropriate for them.