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Family delivers gifts at 2 area nursing homes Christmas Eve
Melinda Hellman was in the Navy when she got word her grandfather's health was deteriorating and that he had to move into a nursing home.
She would never see him alive again. Charles Sparks died while his granddaughter was on duty in Fort Worth, Texas.
But Hellman has turned her regret into a mission, bringing cheer to people who are so often alone, especially during the holiday season.
On Christmas Eve, Hellman and her mother-in-law, Terrie Hellman, delivered Mary Kay cosmetics care packages to 80 residents at Ratliff Care Center in Cape Girardeau and Advance Nursing Center in Advance, Mo.
The Cape Girardeau women, independent consultants with Mary Kay, sought donations from individuals and businesses to purchase the ribbon-wrapped stockings filled with hand cream for $15 each. The Hellmans ended up paying for three-quarters of the gifts when donations came in slower than hoped.
But Melinda Hellman said her charitable drive isn't about the cost of gifts; it's about giving in the name of her grandfather to nursing home residents, some without any loved ones in their lives.
"Out of not being there for him, that makes me want to be there for others who aren't having visitors," she said. "It bothers me how many of them don't get visitors."
Mike Ratliff, administrator for the Cape Girardeau skilled nursing facility his parents opened 45 years ago, said most of the residents do have family and friends who visit them or stay connected over the holidays. A few, however, don't have anyone outside the confines of the nursing home, making the Hellmans' gesture that much more special.
"That brightens some of their lives, to think someone cares enough to think of them," he said.
The Ratliff Care Center's dining hall was decked out for the season on Christmas Eve, complete with a brightly lit and angel-decorated Christmas tree. About two dozen elderly residents, most in wheelchairs, were in the dining room as Melinda Hellman, her two young children and her mother-in-law walked in with a box of stockings. Hellman's son and daughter passed out the presents, with Terrie Hellman directing the Santa project.
Terrie Hellman said she hears too many stories of lonely, disconnected senior citizens from her sister, a nursing home nurse. She wanted to do something about it and said she readily joined her daughter-in-law's cause.
"I thought if I could go in and make one day brighter for them, that's going to make me feel good and make them feel good," she said.
Helen Frick, 77, has been a resident of Ratliff and in a wheelchair for nearly a year. She's suffered a series of health setbacks in recent years -- a stroke, a broken foot, heart problems, a fall and spinal surgery. She is learning to walk again, slowly, with the help of a walker.
"It's been one thing after another," Frick said. "So I'm hoping things will be better next year."
She still feels like one of the lucky ones. Frick is a widow of eight and a half years, and she has no children. But her nephew, who lives in Perryville, Mo., and her sister, who lives near Jonesboro, Ill., come to visit her often. She planned to spend Christmas Day with her relatives.
Ratliff is a festive place around the holidays, with a constant flow of carolers, cookies, a holiday feast and a visit from Santa Claus. But for the ones without family or friends, the holidays can feel less than merry.
"I see some of them that don't see anybody, and it's so sad," Frick said.
The Hellman family stopped at the Advance Nursing Center on Friday afternoon.
Fred Scherer, the facility's administrator, said it's always nice to see people volunteering their time and gifts at the nursing home, especially at Christmastime.
"I don't think the presents themselves are that big of a deal; it's that someone is thinking about them," he said. "And anytime someone takes a little interest in them that really makes them feel good."
717 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO