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Mother's Day Drive Yields More Than 400 Gifts for Women

May 15, 2020 04:21PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Call it an explosion of kindness: What started as Debbi Drewry's idea to give a few simple Mother's Day gifts to her neighbors ballooned into a massive effort that ultimately yielded more than 400 baskets and gifts to deserving women across the Los Angeles area.

Her Mother's Day gift project, run out of her Manhattan Beach home, brought together more than 200 volunteers and countless hours of time.

Volunteers helped assemble and deliver the gift baskets, which went to women in need, women who had suffered recent family losses, elderly women living alone, and a variety of other deserving women.

"My reason for doing this crazy act was that making others happy makes me happy, and I am hopeful that a few people in this difficult Covid-19 environment were made happy," said Drewry, who credits her religious faith as her inspiration. "I believe so many people were sitting at home just waiting for the perfect opportunity to be generous, loving and kind. I believe it gave them a sense of purpose and something to focus on besides all the negatives during this very unique time in our lives."

Monsignor John Barry of American Martyrs Church weighed in with praise for Drewry's efforts to spread positivity. 

"During these days of the pandemic, over and over we hear about contagion. All of us should continue to do everything we can to prevent the spread of this horrible virus. However, there is also another meaning of contagion, and it is positive," he said. "In our midst we have Deb Drewry who is really infected with this 'good' virus. It motivates us to help others in any way we can. It causes us to bring some act of kindness and caring to one of our neighbors or even beyond our own circle."

An Idea is Born

In late April, Drewry had just moved back into the neighborhood after an extensive home remodel, and wanted to do something nice for her neighbors as a thank you "for putting up with our year-long construction mess."

She saw someone selling three baskets for $12 on, so she went ahead and bought the baskets. When the seller found out what Drewry was using them for, the seller added complimentary basket filler, ribbon, and a bag of homegrown loquats to the order. 

At this point, Drewry started realizing that there were many more than three people she wanted to honor with a gift basket. 

"I knew a lot of women, besides my beautiful patient neighbors, who were struggling with different things relating to the Covid-19 environment," said Drewry. "In addition, I had two friends that recently lost their mothers unexpectedly, one to Covid-19 and another to a stroke at the young age of 58. I lost my mother at age 57 suddenly, so I understand first-hand the raw pain of losing a mom. My list of women was ranging around the 20-count mark, and I obviously didn't have 20 baskets, nor did I have anything to fill them with."

Drewry knew that neighbors on NextDoor were extraordinarily generous. Earlier this year, she and her son had received an outpouring of support when they had requested donations for a free flag football camp for underprivileged children that he had created for an American Martyrs service project.

So she again put out a call for donations on NextDoor. 

"On May 2, I sent out my first NextDoor post requesting 'girly' things for Mother's Day baskets with a deadline of May 6. I put out a large tub in my driveway and a sign that said 'Mother's Day donations here,'" she said.

Drewry continued: "It is kind of hard to put in words what transpired over the next five days. The outpouring of donations, emails, texts, calls, and so on, was beyond amazing. The most amazing thing was the quality and thoughtfulness of the donations that were coming in. Most everything was new, brand name, had the tag still on or had the 'hand made' tag on it."

The gift basket donations included candles, books, crystal, coffee, mugs, kitchen towels, picture frames, jewelry, note cards and book marks, live orchids, succulents and other plants, scarves, religious items, candies, Girl Scout cookies, toilet paper, Kleenex, makeup bags, soaps, bath bombs, cosmetics, lotions, scrubs, lip glosses, and even face masks.

To accommodate all of the gift items, she put out another call for gift baskets or bags, and neighbors once again responded in kind.

The Project Multiplies

At this point the project had filled up Drewry's garage and she knew she had more than she could manage - or give away - on her own. 

"As the basket count was now looking more like 200 than 20, I began to ask God where all these baskets were to go and how were they going to get there," said Drewry. "It was an almost immediate answer that He said that 'they' will do it. So my next post was inviting all the NextDoor neighbors to go find a woman, any woman, that they could deliver a basket of love and cheer to. It didn't matter who it was; someone lonely, shut in, sick, a neighbor, friend, family member, someone they don't even know, or even themselves....Everyone was responsible for divvying up the duty of delivering these baskets. In my mind I knew it wasn't really a duty but a 'gift' to be able to deliver some joy to someone in need."

At the same time, she requested a list from American Martyrs parish staff of people who might be in need of a basket. "Again, I was thinking maybe around 20, but instead I received a list of 100 mostly elderly long term parishioners," she said. "Now my 200 was 300. OK; time to call in the troops."

Volunteers Lend a Hand

The "troops" in this case were from the Cornerstone group at American Martyrs - a large cohort of women willing to lend a hand. In a matter of hours she had volunteers lined up to print messages, pick up donations from around the area, and deliver more baskets. 

Additionally, American Martyrs passed along a donation of See's Candy boxes and heart-shaped tins, as well as Mother's Day prayer cards from Monsignor Barry. 

Then came the assembly: Drewry's garage was filled with gift items, baskets, and basket decorations. After hours of work, the packages were assembled and sorted by age group appropriateness. 

To cap off the project, on Saturday night before Mother's Day, two "angels" contacted Drewry to ask if they could assist with distribution on Sunday morning. 

"As I was pretty mentally and physically spent, these two ladies stepped in and ran the show for the Mother's Day basket distribution," said Drewry. "[On Sunday] they welcomed people, kept them at a social distance, and helped them find the perfect basket for whomever they were shopping for. These literally were God’s angels sent to help me."

But the project wasn't over yet. 

"Monday was a bit of a blur and I had felt like I had been hit by a truck, drained both mentally and physically," said Drewry. "But I woke up Tuesday with another burst of energy to get the garage cleaned out. I managed to construct out of the leftovers another 50 baskets and 20 gift bags with See’s candy."

She then had help from Cornerstone women doing more deliveries. And then Dee Smith, the director of Together In Mission, the annual Catholic appeal of the archdiocese of Los Angeles, stopped by. 

"I had known who Dee was and always admired her, and there she was in her sweatpants and baseball cap coming to help out. It was almost like the Bishop was here," said Drewry. "She was my final angel in the project. We swept up everything that was at all usable and she was off to deliver to the poorest of poor parishes in the heart of Los Angeles."

More Than 400 Gifts Delivered

All told, Drewry estimates that more than 400 gifts were delivered. Two hundred gift baskets and packages went to area women, as delivered by NextDoor neighbors. Then 20 baskets went to Patterns, a nonprofit residential center in Hawthorne; 60 went to Together in Mission women; 100 See's large heart candy boxes went to American Martyrs parishioners in need; and 35 See's large heart candy boxes went to American Martyrs parishioners who had lost a mother in the past year.

"Deb saw this time when a token of caring can do so much," said Monsignor Barry. "She gathered family and friends and together, they put baskets together and reached out delivering these gifts on Mother’s Day.  So many people are happier because of this contagion. May God bless all those who are out there spreading joy, hope and love."

Drewry shared several messages with DigMB that she had received following the deliveries.

One woman texted her, "I got a basket for a mom that lost her 9-month baby three months ago. She was speechless and overwhelmed by this nice gesture."

Another woman brought a gift basket to a friend who had been recently widowed with three young boys. "I brought her food and baby diapers, but I didn't think about a self care package. This is amazing!" she told Drewry.

Another reported from her deliveries to women who had recently lost their mothers: "In most cases, few words were spoken... a bite of the lip, a quiver of the chin, eyes welled up,  a few tears shed, a hand to the heart, a tender wave with a bow of the head, a husband who grasped the box of candy and as he read the tag his shoulders dropped, he shook his head looked up and mouthed...thank you, thank you so very much!  Or the woman who reluctantly came to the door and bewilderedly took the heart went back to her couch smiling as tears ran down her face."

"You are very special to have opened your heart and abilities the way you have," another participant wrote to Drewry. 

Is the project over? Not exactly. Drewry has several remaining items that she described as "not very female friendly" that could be used for... Father's Day baskets?

"I have planted the seed on NextDoor for someone in the neighborhood to take on a Father's Day project. I offered to be the helper behind the scenes and I pray that someone will hear God's call to step up and take on this project," she said.

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