Thursday December 22, 2016
With the holiday in full swing, maybe you’ve been battling the crowds in search of the perfect gift for each and every person on your shopping list. Toys, electronics, sports equipment and new outfits top the wish lists of tiny tots through teens, but imagine if you didn’t have the money to purchase any one of those items.
Providing gifts for those parents who can’t buy their child something as simple yet memorable as a soccer ball, a coloring book, or a baby doll is at the heart of Anne Corley’s Angel Holiday Shop.
A life-long South Burlington resident, and retired South Burlington High School English teacher, Corley is the inspiration behind the Angel Holiday Shop, where people with limited resources are invited to “shop”, at no cost, for gifts for their loved ones. Since she opened the doors to the shop in 2006, every year, during the season of holly, menorahs, and unity cups, Corley transforms the basement of her home into a magical holiday playground. Brand new items - books, puzzles, board games, crocheted hats, and infant clothing hand-stitched into a kaleidoscope of colors - greet each wide-eyed shopper. In an adjoining room, racks of second-hand jackets and clothing are ready for choosing. Many of the jackets are donated by Gaudue’s Dry Cleaning, a family run business that accepts new or gently used coats, and other winter clothing for children in need.
When asked how the shop started,Corley said she was moved by a television show she was watching one day, “A guy opened up a room of his house for toys to give out. I thought it was a great idea.” That’s when she, and Williston resident Jane Stickney, also a retired South Burlington High School teacher and Respite House volunteer, began stocking the holiday shop. “It’s a small way of sharing the spirit,” Stickney beamed.
Like most altruistic endeavors of this kind, it takes a village. Friends of Corley’s, many who have been involved with the project since day one, make up that village; they donate items, help set up the shop, and greet customers. Like Santa’s elves, everyone involved has worked hard to preserve the magic, and that magic has spread. Last year alone, 52 shoppers left with gifts for 155 children. The numbers have yet to be counted for this year, but “there have been a lot of needy people,” Corley confirmed. “Just today someone came in and chose six jackets, one for each of his children.” She smiled as she recalled this year’s first customer: “A father found two sweaters for his children and a pair of boots for himself. He was so excited.”
She and Stickney wish they could give and give, but to ensure that there’s enough magic for those in need, they ask shoppers to visit once per season, and choose only what they believe their children will want - “one special gift,” Stickney encourages. Though they don’t ask for donations from shoppers, some do give back, whether it’s fifty cents or a couple of dollars. Corley remembered a customer who arrived with a donation, “He said, ‘I was on the receiving end, and now I’m paying back.’” For those who don’t have the resources to pay back, they show their gratitude in other ways. “Sometimes people arrive with thank you notes before shopping,” Corley added. “And people always make a point to thank me before leaving.”
“We’re grateful for any support,” she said. People from all over the community have supported the shop. As part of their Giving Tree initiative, The South Burlington Rotary Club donated fifty gifts in 2015. Another individual arrived that same year with a $500 check in memory of his brother. This year, a group of Colchester High School students are making Christmas stockings filled with goodies for the shop.
All monies donated are allocated to the Angel Fund in South Burlington, also established by Corley and Stickney in 2006. The fund provides aid to those struggling to meet basic human needs, with most donations used to pay a portion of electric and gas bills.
Corley’s commitment to volunteerism has been part-and-parcel of who she is for many years. After retiring from her 34-year teaching career in 1994, when she was wondering what she could do to occupy her time, she began volunteering at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. She dedicated 20 years of service to the organization, providing people with warm, nutritious meals. She also set up what became known as Anne’s Clothing Corner, which also included household goods, and sleeping bags for the homeless. Along with Stickney, Corley also used to mow the lawn at the Respite House. No wonder she received the 2013 Frederick H Tuttle Award for extraordinary service and dedication to the community. As one of her helper-elves shared, “Anne is someone who is so giving.”
Corley’s giving character is boundless; she has sent gifts from her shop, perhaps by sleigh, across the lake to friends in Ticonderoga. Her friends then delivered those gifts to local churches. “It’s a poor community,” she acknowledged. Here in Vermont, she has also ventured beyond her shop, responding to others’ holiday wishes, “Last year, on December 24, a woman who just got out of jail called to ask if I had anything. I met her at Zachary’s, and handed her a gift bag.”
Anne Corley’s generous acts, undoubtedly, made her newest customer feel good, maybe as good as she told me she feels helping the less fortunate. Imagine the memorable feeling of cheer she herself receives each time a parent leaves her magical holiday shop with a basketball, a baby doll, or a fantasy book for his or her child.
The South Burlington Angel Fund and Holiday Shop welcomes shoppers by appointment only. To shop, donate new gifts, or to contribute to the Angel Fund, call Anne Corley at 802-864-6316.
SOURCE: Melissa Cronin, Contributor