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The Spirit of Giving

Santa's elves are alive
and well right here in Kentuckiana

Stories By Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

The Christmas season is traditionally filled with lights, joy, gifts and a fair share of hustle and bustle as people prepare for annual family gatherings and festive events. 
As each year passes, the mission turns to working toward "the big day" to get everything ready before it falls on the 25th of the month. 
Some start earlier than others. But there's always a few people in each community who exhibit the Christmas spirit of giving year-round. Just start asking around, and the same names keep coming up.
These people often are in the business of helping those who aren't as fortunate. They take time aside from their own personal holiday preparations to help make Christmas a better holiday for those who might not have it so happy, otherwise. Some they help to just get by.
So as you enjoy the holiday season, take a moment to hear the stories of three people in the RoundAbout circulation area who help make Christmas a little merrier: Janet Woodfill of Madison, Ind.; Mary Kathryn Smith of Carrollton, Ky.; and Bobbie Stoess of Crestwood, Ky.

MARY KATHRYN SMITH:  Retired nurse still provides care

Mary Kathryn SmithCARROLLTON, Ky. • From the beginning of her career in 1955 to her retirement in 1992, Mary Kathryn Smith was a dedicated nurse for the Carroll County Memorial Hospital. But just because she had the "option" to retire from a career of service did not mean she chose to stop serving her community altogether. 
Smith still goes in on call as a nurse when she can. 
"She's probably one of the best nurses I have ever known," said Ethel McClure, a retired nurse who worked with Smith for 28 years. "She's always a jolly person, no matter how bad the situation is. She always helps you to keep their spirits up. She is also a very generous person."
But that's not all. Smith has been noted by many as a dedicated volunteer around Carroll County. Carroll Countians have seen this volunteerism at charitable events and causes, such as the annual HealthWorks, where those in need receive low-cost medical tests and exams in various areas. 
Those behind the scenes are all volunteers, and Smith has been a dedicated one for the last 20 years. She also has assisted with the prostate screening for men in Carrollton, another volunteer position. 
As the Christmas season approaches, she will spend many hours preparing food baskets for the hungry during the annual Food Bank Drive, sponsored by area Carrollton churches. Smith herself is a member of St. John's Catholic Church.
"We had a meeting and decided we would start something to help people in town," Smith recalled. "This was the first effort for the community at Christmas."
Smith has been a part of the Food Bank Drive for more than 10 years. She was one of the first 20 people to get it started as a year-round giving effort. The effort is currently coordinated by Carrollton lawyer Ruth Baxter. 
"Mary Kathryn uses energies otherwise used at work for the Food Bank," said Baxter. "She has worked tirelessly on a weekly basis to fill food orders for those in need in the community. We couldn't do it without her."
Baxter emphasized that the efforts of Smith and those with whom she works at the Food Bank go beyond the Christmas season.
"We give to people all year that need help," said Smith. "The teachers at schools tell us who is needy, and we get a master list at Christmas."
"We help nearly 600 needy families per year," said Baxter. "Some of them are elderly who have to choose between buying medicine and food."
"If whoever I help feels better, I feel better," said Smith.
Smith has lived in Carrollton all her life and is married to Paul J. Smith, an insurance and real estate broker. She is the mother of seven and the grandmother of 12.
She is also a frequent volunteer for events at the Carroll County Public Library. She bakes cookies and helps organize the sale table for the library's annual Cookie Walk. This fundraiser helps toward the purchase of new library materials for the Carroll County community.
"She is always here washing dishes, setting up. She volunteers for everything," said Jarrett Boyd, Carroll County librarian.
McClure said, "She anticipates a need and tries to fill it and usually does."


Janet WoodfillJANET WOODFILL: A volunteer by choice

MADISON, Ind. • In 1998, Salvation Army officials in Madison chose Janet Woodfill to coordinate their corps of bell ringers. The job may sound simple, but it is one involving many important responsibilities and hours of work. 
Yet, when Woodfill took the job, she was offered pay but refused it. "I did it as a volunteer position, by my choice," said Woodfill, 44.
Woodfill grew up in Madison, but lived in New York for 13 years. The mother of two sons, Joseph, now 25, and Chris George, 15, she began her active volunteering in their schools. 
She moved back to Madison in 1995. Her mother, Vivian Woodfill-Stone, was a case worker at Madison's Salvation Army Branch. Woodfill would bring her mother to work, and with her children being in school, Janet found herself staying and volunteering. Since that time, she has been volunteering there in various capacities. 
"I've done just about everything here," Woodfill said. She added that Christmas time is an especially busy month. Since 1995, she has coordinated the bell ringers as well as driving the van to pick up donation kettles, taking drivers to seven to eight destinations, and manning and organizing the annual food drive. These Christmas responsibilities come in addition to her year-round management of the Madison branch's food pantry, her leadership on disaster relief teams and her position as an assistant scout master for Boy Scout Troupe 708 in Hanover, Ind.
"I enjoy it. It's a lot of fun watching the boys achieve what they thought they couldn't do."
Woodfill has coordinated the Salvation Army bell ringers for the past two years. She made sure all posts were covered and kettles dropped off, picked up and counted. This year Woodfill has opted not to coordinate the event, but she still is involved in the Christmas charity activities. She has been helping out with them since August, as usually happens every year.
"People now say ŽChristmas is Coming.' I say ŽIt's been here for three months,' " she said.
"For trying to take a breather, I can't believe how busy she is," said Lt. Tim Sell of the Salvation Army.
Woodfill's father built the shelves in the Madison branch's enormous food pantry. There, Woodfill is responsible for the constant rotation of the food, from sorting it, organizing it on the shelf, making sure dates on the food are good, and then preparing food sacks for hungry and needy people who walk in off the street.
In addition, Woodfill often plays the role of resident mechanic, making sure the Salvation Army vehicles receive oil changes and tire rotation. 
"My son's father was a mechanic," said Woodfill. "I learned a lot through him."
Also, Woodfill finds herself constantly on call as part of the Disaster Relief Team. She carries a two-way radio device through which emergencies are reported. 
"We go out to major fires. During the flood, I had 300 or more hours that month. I was either on the road or here on the phones."
"She is a person who lives and breathes Salvation Army 24 hours a day seven days a week," said Walt Morrill of Hanover College. He serves as the chairman of Madison's Salvation Army board. "She is a selfless person who puts the needs of everyone else above her own."
Woodfill says, "It gives me something to do, and I feel good doing it. I've gained a lot of friends and met a lot of people through here. It's a good way to get to know people and feel good about yourself."
Asked about what advice she would give regarding volunteerism, Woodfill replied, "Find the place you need to be and where you feel you can give the best you can." 


Bobbie StoessBOBBIE STOESS:  Teacher, church worker

CRESTWOOD, Ky. • Years ago, a little girl who was a student of grade school teacher Bobbie Stoess approached Stoess with a note. The note read: "We have nothing for Christmas. Can you help me?"
Stoess approached people at Crestwood Elementary School and her church, Crestwood United Methodist, to ask for any contributions they might be able to make toward helping this unfortunate family with three children.
Since that time, Stoess, 45, has spent the months before Christmas asking others to contribute to those less fortunate than themselves. She currently coordinates the South Oldham Inter-Church Council, an agency that works for months to organize a food basket drive to feed 250 needy families around the Oldham County area.
"We get our families through the Oldham Red Cross," said Stoess. 
Once the families are identified, canned goods are collected at Stoess' school. To this day, the donations are given through people from her school and church. Milk is also donated by the Crestwood IGA, bread by the local Dairy Mart, and apples from Buckner-based food manufacturer Torbitt & Castleman.
"They aren't actually food baskets but big cardboard boxes," said Stoess. Local boy scout troupes put together 500 boxes. According to Stoess, many families have at least six boxes filled with canned goods, boxed goods and children's books.
Shirley Hemphill of the American Red Cross screens applicants for food baskets, working closely with Stoess. "She's always been involved and is very courteous and always follows through on everything," she said of Stoess. 
Another giving medium, which Stoess has hanging in her classroom, is a two-dimensional Christmas tree, upon which her students hang donated clothing.
"I've done stuff like this all my life," said Stoess, a native of West Virginia. "My earliest recollection was when I was 5 years old." 
At the time, there was a flood close to where she was living, and her grandmother asked her to give toys and clothes to children of a devastated family who had lost everything. From then on, she has spent a great amount of her life volunteering for worthy causes through her school and church. She also carries on a strong belief of volunteering that has held true in her family through her mother and her aunt Bobbie.
"I grew up knowing that if someone needed food on the table, my parents would take it to them."
Now, a dedicated wife and mother, Stoess is joined in her volunteer efforts by her husband, Barry, and her two children, Jackie, 19, and Patrick, 16. 
"My kids and husband have always been right beside me doing what I'm doing," said Stoess.
Stoess also volunteers to help collect pull tabs to benefit the Ronald McDonald House of Louisville. The Ronald McDonald House provides shelter to families whose children are disease stricken and therefore hospitalized for long periods of time. The tabs collected are recycled, and money for them is put into the account.
"We get tabs from all over the world," said Stoess.
As Stoess finishes her day at school, she scans her classroom with tables covered with canned goods that will soon go to a needy family. 
"I'm sort of ŽValerie Volunteer' who raises her hand and says, ŽI'll do it if it is something for the community that will help the kids.

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