Lake Norman & Mooresville

Saving small change to make big changes

Patsy Shipp of Cornelius never let her health stand in the way of her top priority: Getting friends and neighbors to fill up empty jars with coins and give them to others in need.

Shipp died of lung cancer earlier this year; still, her efforts will result in more than 100 jars distributed to families facing difficult times. Each jar contain between $150 and $300, and that money can mean a great deal to a needy family.

But the reward for those on the giving end can be even better.

"My Christmas jar this year, in honor of Patsy, is going to a young single man with two small daughters," said Mary Timberman of Rio Rancho, N.M. "It is really needed and I am so thankful for the idea."

The idea of filling jars with loose change began about five years ago, according to one of Patsy's daughters, Laura Shipp Lewis, who lived adjacent to her mom and dad's home in the Diane Shores section of Cornelius off Jetton Road.

"It all started when she read the book 'Christmas Jars,' by Jason F. Wright," said Lewis. "She immediately decided she would start her own Christmas jar. She faithfully deposited her change each day, and by Christmas time she had two jars filled.

"As in the Christmas jar tradition, they were each delivered anonymously to families who needed extra resources during the holiday season."

During the next several years, according to Lewis, Shipp filled more jars and enlisted her family to start their own. She even began depositing her quarters, usually reserved for the Laundromat during traveling.

Each year she would talk to others to determine which families in the community would benefit most from her Christmas jars.

Then, last fall, shortly after returning from a trip to France, Shipp was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Lewis, a nurse at Carolinas Medical Center, knew her mother's time was short.

"She had no risk factors, but instead of asking, 'Why me?' she maintained her 'happy' attitude and looked for ways to serve others," said Lewis. "As family and friends asked what they could do to help, she requested that instead of bringing food to her, they start Christmas jars. She even provided some empty jars to get them started.

"She had me post instructions and pictures on her site (search for PatsyShipp) where family and friends across the country and around the world went for updates on her cancer."

More than 25 Christmas jars were filled in just one month last December in her honor and delivered to those in need. In January 2010, Shipp asked family and friends to start Christmas jars for the year, and she gave labels or jars to family that visited, friends, hospice workers and even her oncologist.

"She knew her time was drawing short but wanted the 'Christmas jar' tradition to continue on," said Lewis. "Her final request was that we have Christmas jars for those at her funeral to take home and start filling for 2010. On Jan. 16, at her funeral, over 72 jars plus many more labels were put in the hands of family, friends, doctors, nurses and all whose lives she touched."

Kathy Harris of Maiden, who donated a jar earlier this season, indicated how much the effort by Shipp meant to her in a recent letter to Lewis.

"I think of her every day," the letter said. "There are some people who touch our lives and we are forever changed as a result. Your Mom had that touch."

Family and friends of Patsy Shipp say they hope the Christmas jar tradition will not only continue but expand. "Maybe we can get 200 jars filled next year." Lewis said.