BRAIDWOOD – Edna Beal of Lockport was enjoying a restaurant meal with a friend when she noticed a woman with a walker.
Immediately Beal, 78, presented her with a handmade walker pocket simply because the woman didn’t have one. Beal said the woman wanted to pay her for it, but Beal, a member of the Santa’s Helper’s group that made the pocket, refused.
“We won’t take money for them,” Beal said of the items Santa’s Helpers make. “I mean, if they want to send a donation to Santa’s Helpers some time, that’s fine, but when we give them out, we don’t take money for them.”
Santa’s Helpers is a group of 17 women – the three youngest were born in 1946 – who meet weekly at Reed-Custer Intermediate School to sew lap throws, bibs and walker pockets to distribute to anyone or any place that expresses a need for them.
That includes 13 nursing homes, churches, shut-ins, veteran groups and hospice patients.
“We have a little assembly line going,” said Mary Shelton of Homer Glen, who joined in 2004 after her husband died. “We deliver to as many nursing homes as we can twice a year. That’s a lot of sewing.”
The group may need a new home once the new school building is constructed, Beal said. Santa’s Helpers requires a permanent location for its sewing equipment, but the new building might not have sufficient room, Beal added.
Beal, the unofficial leader of the group, said Jessie Berg of Braidwood (deceased) and Martha Patterson of Braidwood began Santa’s Helpers in February 1996.
At its inception, Santa’s Helpers knitted, crocheted and sewed anything people might need: stuffed toys, T-shirts, stocking caps and scarves for schoolchildren, as well as lap throws for shut-ins, Beal said.
Joanne Cavanaugh, 74, of Braidwood, Berg’s daughter, said she joined Santa’s Helpers about 2005 after Berg developed Alzheimer’s disease and needed a ride to the meetings.
Cavanaugh fell in love with the group and kept attending even after Berg died in 2010 at age 94.
“She embroidered and crocheted until a week before she died,” Cavanaugh said.
Continuing as a Santa’s Helper was very important to Berg, she added. “You saw a sparkle in her eye when it was time to go. She was very concerned about helping people, making sure they had things to keep them warm.”
Beal joined in September of 1996, after her friend Lillie Hanson of Lockport (deceased) saw a brief in The Herald-News that the helpers were seeking members. Eventually, Santa’s Helpers concentrated on making items for nursing homes.
“They seemed to need it more,” Beal said.
Santa’s Helpers do the bulk of their gifting twice a year – Christmas and Easter. So far for Christmas, Beal said, Santa’s Helpers have made 150 lap throws, 132 bibs and 144 walker pockets.
The wherewithal comes from donations, either monetary or physical material.
“One of the ladies with Santa’s Helpers knows of a lady that passed away and she was a hoarder of fabric. She had a house full of fabric,” Beal said. “We’ve been working on that now for two years.”
When Patterson’s husband James died last year, Santa’s Helpers received $640 in memorials. Patterson herself recently retired from Santa’s Helpers at age 94. Beal said Patterson worked from home the last couple of years, making all the towels the group sold to pay for batting.
“Her sewing room is her dining room table,” Beal said. “She had three sewing machines set up.”
When donations are low, Beal said Santa’s Helpers create products they can sell at holiday craft shows: crocheted shoulder bags, plastic “scrubbies” for scouring pots, scarves, dishcloths and baby items.
“We went to the Godley Park District craft fair in November,” Beal said. “We made about $148 after expenses.”
Batting takes the biggest bite into funds. Beal said they buy five rolls at a time, which costs about $500 to $600. Each roll contains enough batting for 20 lap throws, Beal added. But it’s so worthwhile to see smiles on faces of people happy to receive them, such as when she distributed 50 bibs to residents at one nursing home.
“Their faces lit up like it was Christmas,” Beal said.
HOW TO HELP
To donate material or money, join or offer permanent space for Santa’s Helpers to meet, call Edna Beal at 815-838-0588, Mary Shelton at 815-838-7332 or Cecile Brown at 815-351-7162.
MEET SANTA’S HELPERS:
• Rose Aschenbrener – Braidwood
• Edna Beal – Lockport
• Cecile Brown – Diamond
• Joann Cavanaugh – Braidwood
• Peggy Chapman – Channahon
• Jan Ciarlette – Lockport
• Sandy Coriell – Braidwood
• Linda Hess – Plainfield
• Darlene Kettman – Lockport
• Roberta Kilpatrick – Braidwood
• Jeanne McNeilly – Braidwood
• Martha Patterson – Braidwood
• Joan Reeves – Lockport
• Annie Rochelle – Oak Lawn
• Mary Shelton – Homer Glen
• Maxine Smith – Homer Glen
• Linda Westerberg – Custer Park