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Valentine bouquets bring seniors cheer


With her neck in a brace and her right shoulder in a cast, Lois Shipley spent Friday arranging Valentine bouquets for the elderly.

Shipley and her husband, Loy, who cut long stems with a penknife, worked with about 60 volunteers at St. Joseph Catholic Community Church in Eldersburg. Within a few hours, the group had nearly 500 floral arrangements ready for delivery yesterday to nursing homes and shut-ins throughout South Carroll.

"I can do it one-armed," said Shipley, who was recovering from a fall. "It is all worth it when you see the looks on the faces of the people who get these."

The fifth Valentine Project, organized by Sheens Colleens, the women's auxiliary of the Knights of Columbus, involves most of the parish. Parishioners donated nearly $1,000 to purchase flowers. The vases are gathered at yard sales and flea markets throughout the year, and the labor is free.

"Everyone was so generous," said Carol Ann McCuen, president of Sheens Colleens, who stood outside the church after weekend Masses last month collecting money in tin pails. "Many people told us they had family in nursing homes and they knew what this would mean."

With the efficiency of an assembly line, the volunteers created floral gifts: first the bud vase, then water, carnations, sprig of green, red bow and note. By early afternoon yesterday, each bouquet and a Valentine greeting from a child in the parish would decorate a room and maybe brighten a spirit.

"This is always a big surprise for our residents, and they are excited to be recognized," said Steve Vozzella, director of activities and volunteer services for Fairhaven Retirement Community and Copper Ridge, which cares for people suffering from dementia. "They will keep the flowers by their bedside or on the window sill."

The residents enjoy the socializing that accompanies the gifts, Vozzella said.

"They like the social contact and the interaction with volunteers," he said. "They feel appreciated, and it really makes their day."

Children in the parish's religious education classes made hundreds of Valentine cards, surrounding greetings with frilly paper doilies, fabric, felt hearts, bows, tiny gilt angels and bits of hard candy. Many promised prayers and wrote messages like, "Thank you for all you have done in your life."

Angela McNulty came to the parish hall to arrange flowers with a bag full of Valentine cards, including paper heart puppets that her three children made.

"I was surprised that they would all sit down and do these, but they said it was something they wanted to do," she said.

The scent of flowers mingled with the aroma of the hot-dog lunch provided for volunteers at the church hall Friday. In addition to the traditional red blooms associated with Valentine's Day, volunteers had their pick of white, peach and yellow carnations.

"We use carnations because they last longer than the more fragile flowers," McCuen said.

They added greenery and a bit of baby's breath to each bud vase. Most vases were clear glass, but Tara Riebau, 5, culled the deep red or bright green ones and tested her bow-tying skills.

"We are giving these to sick people," Tara said. "I think they will make them happy."

Kathy Wachter, also on bow detail, added red ribbon to each vase.

"I know a lot of elderly in the community and this will be so good for them," said Wachter, who volunteers with Meals on Wheels and at Cooper Ridge.

After volunteers arranged the flowers, teams that included families, Boy Scouts and teen-agers, collected them from the hall and delivered them yesterday.

"It has blossomed into a welcomed community event," McCuen said. "We started five years ago with a handful of people and now everyone wants to be involved. This is a real sunshiny activity that I hope goes on forever."

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