Betty Maxwell is a tough cookie.
As one of the volunteers who make sure the 14,000 stockings distributed by the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau are stuffed, inspected and ready, she’s on her feet for hours.
She’s 71, and she jokes about the aches and pains that come with bending over tables in the stocking department.
“Pulled all the muscles in my right fanny,” she teases. “You think they’d make a sling for that.”
OK, she’s a volunteer with a salty sense of humor.
But like any tough cookie, she keeps going. As a member of the Salvation Army Auxiliary, she was in charge of stockings for 15 years or so. She’s retired now, but she still volunteers. She swears her car just drives there on its own.
When she goes to the Christmas Bureau, she’s always packing cookies.
Usually, she takes two kinds: pound cake cookies, from a recipe in the Observer years ago, and St. Nicholas cookies, also called speculaas. She got that one from a Belgian woman at the Junior Women’s Club.
“I don’t like making cookies, tell you the truth. You have to hang around and wait for them to bake.” But people are working hard doing Santa’s work, and hard work goes faster with a cookie.
“I try to make everybody there as happy as I can,” she says. “Especially the people who can do you favors,” like fetching supplies or lifting heavy boxes.
Volunteers, such as church groups, bring in the filled stockings, but the Christmas Bureau volunteers inspect every one of them.
They peer through the red netting, weeding out inappropriate things, like razors or bottles of glue that young kids might drink. They pull out candy that might trigger food allergies or draw pests if there are extra stockings to store until next year.
And they add things to make sure all the stockings are filled to the top. Tables are covered with calculators, flashlights and Go Fish cards. Socks, of course. Santa is a practical man.
Why does she work so hard for the Salvation Army?
“I’ll start crying,” she warns. Sure enough, Betty the tough cookie puddles up within a word or two: When her dad was in the Army during World War II, he needed help getting news in a family emergency. The Red Cross wouldn’t help, but the Salvation Army did. They brought him the news that his dad had died.
“My daddy said to me, ‘If you do anything for charity, do it for the Salvation Army.’
“It makes you feel good. My body doesn’t feel good, but the holly inside my head is doing fine.”
Over by the stocking table, people stop to grab a cookie and swap a joke. Maxwell is working so fast, she’s stuck the white labels for the stockings along the edges of her arms. They flap when she moves, like white feathers.
You know, they say angels have white feathers on their arms, too. You don’t suppose ...
Nah. Surely not.