Northeast Tarrant

Grapevine Chamber of Commerce provides Christmas Spirit for GRACE clients

GRAPEVINE After her husband died 30 years ago, Oliva Martinez knew she would always miss a little something special under the tree at Christmas.

But the Women’s Division of the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce and GRACE (Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange) is keeping that treasured memory alive.

Martinez, 75, is one of approximately 100 people who received gifts on Saturday through a cooperative effort of the two groups.

“On behalf of my mother, Oliva Martinez, she would like to thank GRACE for their assistance with a range of services during the last six years under their program,” said her daughter, Marly Martinez. “Their willingness to deliver commodities and groceries once a month, gifts at Christmas and holiday meals has made a great difference in her life.

This year was particularly appreciated.

In the past year, the septuagenarian had incurred unexpected expenses for an emergency trip for her two sisters’ funerals that died the same day in South America. She also needed funds for treatment last summer for breast cancer.

“If it wasn’t for GRACE’s help, she would be going through limited resources this Christmas season,” Martinez said of her mother, who was a longtime tailor for a high-end retail store in Dallas. “We appreciate all they do for showing love, care and detailed sentimental assistance that makes seniors like my mom feel love.”

The Women’s Division, whose mission is to help the community thrive so business can succeed, hosts an annual gift drive called Christmas Spirit. The program includes the collection of gifts based on requests from area senior citizens and the disabled whose wishes are posted on the “Ornament Tree.”

“Christmas Spirit is the heart of the Women’s Division,” said Nancy Coplen, Christmas Spirit chair.

The majority of the funds they raise during the year are used for this program, she said, adding that “it encompasses some of the most rewarding projects we engage in.”

A 63-year-old man asked for a size 48 belt, a Corgi calendar, music from the mid-60s, science fiction and western movies and house slippers.

A 91-year-old woman wanted for an electric can opener and a black handbag with lots of pockets.

A 70-year-old woman hoped for for a crank pencil sharpener and cotton crochet yarn.

And a 77-year-old woman’s list was a cart to get her groceries from her car to her home, an iced tea maker, an athletic suit and an adjustable shower rod.

“Their requests are so eclectic,” Coplen said. “A lot of them are very simple.”

The gifts were gathered and on Saturday, members of the Women’s Division delivered them.

GRACE friends & family coordinator Lara Sundell, who grew up in Grapevine and graduated from Grapevine High School, pitched in, saying it was a rewarding experience.

“What really makes them happy is what we take for granted,” Sundell said of the presents they received.

Mayor Pro Tem C. Shane Wilbanks said he and his wife, Paula, have collect and delivered gifts though ther Christmas Spirit program.

“I am aware it is truly a meaningful experience,” Wilbanks said. “One time, there was a request from a man who wanted nothing for himself but some dog food and chew toys for his dog who was his only companion. He got these and more.”

“And the ladies who welcomed us into their homes and were so appreciative of the gifts,” the mayor pro tem said. “They had very little — it really touches your heartstrings. Especially when you think you are their only contact with Christmas as many of them had no other family.”

Shonda Schaefer, GRACE executive director, said the 100 recipients are identified through the nonprofit relief agency that provides food, clothing, financial assistance and other vital necessities to people who are struggling with a limited income or recent emergency.

“The philosophy of GRACE is that encouraging self-sufficiency will, in turn, encourage community cohesiveness,” Schaefer said. “Compassion and assistance are offered as a response to God’s grace by local churches in partnership with municipalities, businesses, civic organizations and individuals.”

The 100 people on the Christmas Spirit list are a core group that receive monthly assistance from GRACE. Deliveries made to them include non-perishables and cleaning supplies.

“Many of them are single and women and have little or no families,” Schaefer said, adding that they can be homebound and without transportation. “Often they are disenfranchised and some have medical, mental or physical issues.”

One of the highlights each month is when deliveries are made to their homes, and they wait outside to talk to the drivers.

“These are folks that look forward to the visit for the interaction,” Schaefer said. “Care and compassion mean the world to them.”

Although the Christmas gift recipients are encouraged to “think outside the box” when asking for goodies, Schaefer said most requests are for basic needs — at most a robe or slippers.

One year, they learned that a woman was sleeping on her couch because her mattress had bedbugs. She was too humble and proud to ask for a mattress, but her benefactors learned of her need.

“We got her a mattress right away and cleaned her apartment,” Schaefer said. “She was thrilled.”

Oliva Martinez also received more than she had hoped for, her daughter said, saying GRACE was a conduit that linked her mother with the Senior Activities Center, English as a Second Language classes, exercise classes, medical insurance awareness programs and more.

“GRACE has provided more than grocery commodity assistance, but more of a network and community involvement for senior citizens like my mom,” Marly Martinez said.

She said her mother won’t open her Christmas presents until that day, However, the elderly woman would be glad with anything from her list that included an electric blanket, a robe and a Crock-Pot.

Mother and daughter were glad to see Sundell show up on Saturday laden with gifts.

“It was really neat,” Marly Martinez said.