Elves of Hope toil away for holiday season

Mandy Hajel, Courtney Anderson, Alison Stephey, Jackie Sullivan, Debi Duffey and Lori Blubaugh display the handmade beaded snowflake ornaments that are attached to Elves of Hope comfort packages given to patients at the John L. and Cora I. Grove Cancer Center in Chambersburg during the Christmas season. NANCY MACE/FOR LOCAL.NEWS

Magical powers combined with optimism is, by definition, a way to describe the work by a determined local group, the Elves of Hope. 

This six-member core group, along with volunteers, help to make someone’s day brighter as they battle cancer.

In 2013, Mandy Hajel posted on Facebook “What would you do with an extra $100 this Christmas?”

“I would make up comfort packages to give to cancer patients who would have treatment Christmas week, ”responded Denise Beck, and Hajel said, “Let’s make it happen.”  

The Elves project began with Hajel, her sister, Jackie Sullivan, their mom, Debi Duffey, along with Beck and her daughters Alison Stephey and Courtney Anderson at the helm. Lori Blubaugh stepped up to help when Beck lost her life to cancer in 2016.

The group gathered at Duffey’s home Oct. 24 to create 100 beaded snowflake ornaments that will be attached to each comfort package, which includes a fleece blanket, a bottled water covered by a thermal holder, playing cards and a puzzle book and pen, lip gloss, hard candy, gum, lotion and handmade gifts such as wooden and painted ornaments by The Cumberland Valley Woodcarvers Club, crocheted ornaments, hand sewn bookmarks by a children’s sewing group in Minnesota, and Christmas cards made by local elementary students. 

“Making the ornaments helps everyone feel a part of the project. That’s what the night is all about,” noted Duffey.

“The first year we went to the University of Maryland Medical Center. And Denise took some to Philadelphia, where she was receiving treatment. Then we decided, ‘Let’s stay local,’” Duffey added.

The group opted to donate the bags to patients at the John L. and Cora I. Grove Cancer Center in Chambersburg. “Denise and I would go up and spend a day handing them out to patients. It was a great feeling seeing their faces and how much they appreciated it … it brought a lot of joy to those people.” COVID brought an end to that tradition and now the bags are distributed by staff during the Christmas season, according to Duffey.

“If you’re inspired to help with our effort, that would very much be appreciated. It costs about $30 for each bag. Some of the items are donated, but other supplies are purchased by volunteers, Duffey noted. Anyone wishing to donate may send a check, payable to “Elves of Hope,” to Elves of Hope, P.O. Box 142, Waynesboro, PA 17268.

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