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A gift of companssion: Local ‘angel’ helps seniors in need

Sheila Cook of Pawleys Island has been helping seniors in need during the holiday season for 19 years, providing them with necessities to make their lives more pleasant and gifts to bring them joy.

With help from local businesses and the Georgetown County Bureau of Aging Services, she collects and distributes items to local senior centers and assisted living facilities through the Seniors in Need Angel Trees program. This year deliveries were made on Dec. 22.

“Seeing the kindness that goes along with this effort and all the joy it brings to so many people, is truly the best Christmas gift I could ever find under my tree,” Cook said. “It never fails to bring tears to my eyes.”

She said the process is fairly simple.

“Businesses put up the trees and I put angels on them, with wishes for people to buy,” Cook said. “Then people take the angels and purchase the items written on them.”

Donations are brought to Applewood House of Pancakes and a store called Electronics, Etc., both in Pawleys Island. Cook then organizes the items for distribution at her home.

Cook said after her own mother passed away about 20 years ago, she decided to do something to help seniors during the holidays. She started with one tree at the former Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Pawleys Island and expanded from there.

“Since that time, I do it for the joy of it,” Cook said. “They call me an angel, but I’m not an angle. It touches my heart.”

Now, Cook works with the Bureau of Aging Services to deliver the gifts, which range from blankets and heating pads to clothing and cookware, to the Pawleys Island Senior Center, Meals on Wheels, St. Elizabeth Place Senior Day Care at Baskervill and several senior hospice care patients.

The focus this year was toiletries – including tooth brushes, shampoo and deodorant – donated by people who took an angel, and flashlights, donated by Festiva Resorts, a regional travel company that has an office in Murrells Inlet.

“We hold a charity auction each year to help different organizations, including Seniors in Need Angel Trees,” said Paul Ebert, an employee with Festiva Resorts who organizes the auction. “Seniors are sometimes forgotten and it is important to let them know people care about them.”

Ebert said helping seniors is especially important to his boss, Sonya Garner, who insists on donating to this charity each year. He said the main reason they support the program is that Cook is very dedicated to what she is doing.

“Every year, Sheila makes sure the right people get what they need,” Ebert said. “She puts everything into it, so Sonya always finds the time to help her.”

Jackie Elliott, manager of the Bureau of Aging Services, agreed about Cook’s dedication.

“We have seniors that are in need in the Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet areas,” Elliott said. “I’m glad that Sheila cares about those people and wants to do something to let them know they’re still thought about.”

She said in the 14 years the Bureau of Aging Services has been working with Cook, the Seniors in Need Angel Trees program has always received an abundant response.

“She always distributes plenty of very nice gifts,” Elliott said. “She works really hard and has everything set up in bags and labeled in her garage. It is just amazing when we go there to pick it up.”

Elliott said volunteers distribute the gifts, sometimes making two trips.

Amy Vlahos, owner of Applewood House of Pancakes, has been helping Cook for nine years. She said she loves the cause because seniors deserve some happiness around the holidays.

“So many elderly have no relatives left, or their children are too busy with their own lives,” Vlahos said. “We have a lot of lonely and needy seniors, especially at Christmastime.”

She added that the requests written on the angels are usually necessities, not the newest electronic toys that are usually listed on angel trees for children.

“They usually ask for the humblest sweetest gifts,” Vlahos said. “A man might ask for a pack of razors and shaving creme and a lady might ask for shampoo or hand soap.”

She said the Seniors in Need Angel Trees program has become a tradition at Applewood.

“We live in an area where everyone is so charitable,” Vlahos said. “We put a tree up every year and the customers are generally waiting to grab their angels.”

Anyone who is interested in helping with next year’s Seniors in Need Angel Trees program can call Vlahos at Applewood House of Pancakes at 843-979-1022.

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