Sorority sisters ‘adopt’ 94-year-old through Christmas Bureau

kgarloch@charlotteobserver.comDecember 16, 2013 

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In years past, Pam Lewis bought Christmas gifts for children she “adopted” anonymously from Angel Trees.

But this year, the Wells Fargo first vice president matched herself with a 94-year-old woman she met in October when Lewis helped with registration at the Salvation Army Christmas Center.

It was Lewis’ first time registering people instead of just buying gifts. This year, the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program will provide toys for 12,200 children from needy families. A separate Silver Bells program will provide gifts for 1,400 low-income seniors. The gifts are paid for in part with donations from Observer readers to the Empty Stocking Fund.

When Lessie Mae Clark sat down at her registration table, Lewis said she felt a special bond almost as soon as she looked at the woman’s driver’s license and saw the 1919 birth date.

“You’re 94,” Lewis said. “What a pleasure it is to have you here.”

“I’ve been here a long time,” she recalled Clark saying.

When Lewis asked for some gift ideas to put on her list, she said Clark responded with a question. “I don’t know, baby. What do you think I need?”

Lewis threw out some possibilities. How about kitchen supplies? Or dresses? “Is there anything you feel like you’re lacking or could use a spruce-up?”

They settled on dish towels and a few other things, but Lewis already had ideas of her own. If the Salvation Army would allow it, she wanted to adopt this woman and pick out the gifts herself.

“I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to have this lady,’ ” Lewis said. “She’s somebody I could relate to.”

When the Salvation Army OK’d the match, Lewis and her friend Lucille Frierson went shopping. Last Saturday, they joined their Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters at the Deltas of Charlotte headquarters on Beatties Ford Road, where all who participated in Christmas Bureau programs dropped off gifts for 60 children and seniors.

Lewis, the alumni chapter’s chair of programming, said most of the gifts will be taken later this week to the Christmas Center inside a former Walmart at the corner of Old Pineville and Arrowood roads. But in response to a special request from the Observer, Lewis and Frierson made a special delivery to Clark on Saturday, bringing gifts in person to Clark’s apartment at the Parktowne Terrace, a Charlotte Housing Authority complex near SouthPark.

On that cold, rainy day, the two friends arrived, dressed in holiday red, arms piled high with packages wrapped in red, green and glittering gold paper. When Clark eyed them, she raised her arms and proclaimed: “Santie Claus is comin’ to town.”

Lewis and Frierson helped their “Silver Bell” unwrap her many gifts – two robes, house slippers, a jacket and skirt, sweatshirt and sweatpants, blankets, underwear, baskets of cleaning supplies and beauty products, and a laundry basket piled with paper towels, toilet paper and tissues.

“Thank you, girls,” said Clark, raising her arms again. “Thank you, Father, and bless these two girls.”

Before they left, Lewis and Frierson asked if they could come back sometime for a visit; they’d even bring lunch. Of course, Clark said, letting them know she didn’t like okra, string beans or corn. The sorority sisters laughed and promised to return.

“If the good Lord let’s me live,” Clark said, “I’ll be here.”

“This has just made my whole holiday season,” Lewis said. “I think you might have some new granddaughters.”

Frierson agreed: “If I don’t get anything else, I’m good.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078

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