South Charlotte

Local center's Oasis seniors teaming up to help homeless

Bea Kleinman and Golda Schwartz are the epitome of good neighbors.

"It's such a pleasure to be able to do something for someone else," said Kleinman, 91.

"I can't help support (the homeless), but I can give my feelings, my love."

"At my age," said Schwartz, 92, "I'm doing what I can. My heart breaks and goes out to the people on the street." Schwartz, who was a young girl during the Great Depression, recalls going with very little.

Kleinman and Schwartz were part of the group of Levine Jewish Community Center Oasis seniors who performed a mitzvah - a good deed - project to benefit the homeless.

The seniors painted and decorated canvas tote bags and filled them with toiletries and donated personal-care items, said Jodie Iagnocco, LJCC director of Senior and Adult Services.

"These bags were distributed to the Room in the Inn participants for them to take with them when they depart from the LJCC," said Iagnocco.

Room in the Inn is a successful Urban Ministry Center program that relies on partnerships with more than 100 Charlotte-area organizations, primarily congregations and colleges.

During the winter months, RITI provides food and warm, safe overnight shelter for homeless "neighbors," as the program calls them.

The LJCC provides three nights of shelter through RITI, said Mitch Ormand, Family and Youth Services supervisor.

"Jodie had asked what the seniors can do to help," said Ormand.

Iagnocco and Ormand brainstormed and came up with the welcome bag idea.

On three separate days in November and December, the Oasis seniors used their imaginations, stencils and paints to paint and decorate the bags and filled them with new donated toiletries.

"I'm so glad that I didn't toss them, " said Hattie Hedgepeth, referring to new, unused items she contributed.

"All of us donated whatever we could," said Hedgepeth, 71. "We cleaned out all our lipsticks, bonus gifts, things that I don't use that others can."

"I'm not a very good painter," said Millie Alves, 84, "but they provided stencils for us. It's a good feeling to help people that are a little less fortunate and contribute to a little happiness."

Alves painted and filled about eight to 10 bags. "It's not much of a contribution, but every little bit helps," said Alves.

A broken neck and an artificial hip limit 92-year-old Nellie Geere physically. "I can't get involved in too many physical activities," she said; however, she was more than happy to do what she could to help.

Geere donated unused soaps, shampoos, toothbrushes, toothpaste and creams.

"So often the seniors' abilities to do a mitzvah project is hindered by their lack of mobility," said Iagnocco. "They felt so good about decorating these bags, and the prospects of filling and distributing them to those in need, that they left here today with big smiles and full hearts."

Altogether, the seniors made and filled 50 bags.

"Approximately 35 bags were given to Room in the Inn, and the rest of the bags and health care items that were donated were brought to the Center of Hope," the women's and children's Shelter run by the Salvation Army, said Iagnocco.

Herm Ziegler, Room in the Inn coordinator, said the Oasis seniors had the appreciation of the neighbors and the RITI volunteers.

"Tote bags like those are greatly appreciated because they last and are used over and over by the recipients," said Ziegler. "None were left behind.

"The designs and markings help cheer up the folks because they tend to live in a rather drab world and can always use a boost. But most of all they realize that someone cares enough to think of them and put effort into making something they will keep."