• Share the Spirit’s tradition includes one special elf who set organizer’s imagination to work
By Naomi Klouda
Chief Elf Shari Daugherty acknowledges it takes a lot of elves to pull off Share the Spirit every year for two decades.
Consider the sheer numbers: thousands of cans of food donated for Christmas baskets each season. More than 500 gifts to be wrapped, then sorted and tagged along with hundreds of other gifts purchased and wrapped by individuals from the Gift Trees around town. Along with the 200 or so hams and turkeys, depending on the number of recipients. In addition to, gift certificates for fuel or other services to be purchased or picked up.
It takes a whole lot of Christmas spirit. “Elves are our legs and our backs and the energy that propels us along,” Daugherty said.
In addition to dozens of other volunteers, this year’s Share the Spirit 20th Annual Christmas program has four sprightly teen elves in Zoe Story, Katie Kirsis, Sierra Roberts and Katie Pitzman.
“We go make the rounds once a week, then closer to Christmas we’ll go twice a week: to each business where there’s the Angel Trees and to each place where there’s food donations,” Story said. “Then, we’ll take the presents to the (Wells Fargo) bank and the food to Shari.”
They helped at the Spaghetti Feed on Tuesday at the Elks Club and are wrapping some of those 500 Christmas presents on Dec. 20 at Homer High School.
“It’s really neat, from beginning to end,” Story said.
Meet First Elf ‘Frog’
The story of how the youth Elf Program evolved starts with the tale of one girl. Little Kelly “Frog” Glidden was hauled along to the first Share the Spirit undertaking in December 1992 – the day when people gathered to help wrap gifts and pack food baskets by her dad, John Glidden. He was one of the first board members of Share the Spirt, so for Kelly, the Christmas program became a tradition.
“Frog came every year to help, and at some point, just pushed us out of the way,” Daugherty recalled. “We were too slow, so the gift-wrapping stations were hers.”
Every year, the chief elf could count on Frog’s bossiness, her supervisory skills and indignant certainty about how things should be done in a busy gym full of grown-ups carrying boxes or cans to and fro in confusion.
“It was chaotic. It looked unorganized.
People weren’t sure what they were doing. I felt there had to be a more efficient way of doing things,” Frog remembers.
In order to get 500 gifts or more wrapped in a single day – well, it was less back then – wrappers needed to form an efficient first-step, second-step, third-step process, the little elf figured. Glidden had them collect an item, wrap it, then restore it to a specific spot.
Canned food and perishables, meanwhile, get sorted and packed in boxes per family on another side of the High School Commons. But that wasn’t Glidden’s concern. Daugherty said, “We put her in charge of the wrapping.”
The sight of Glidden’s devotion to the cause impressed not just a few observers. She was named “Youth Citizen of the Year,” by the City of Homer when she was 16 years old. Then in 1997, she graduated from Homer High School and flew to the University of Arizona to major in social work.
“When she graduated from high school and went to college, we realized we weren’t going to have that person to help us,” Daugherty said. “That’s what made the Elf Program because we were desperate.”
Glidden did come home at Christmas to help for the main day of Share the Spirit tasks.
Fortunately, the high schools have community service requirements for their graduating students that developed soon after, which the ever-organized Chief Elf Daugherty lost no time tapping for elves among students completing their Senior Projects or requirements.
Given that was 15 years ago when it started, a steady stream of those elves also grew up and left for college.
“They come home at Christmas and call me up, and say, ‘do you still need help with the Christmas baskets?’ One is Jonathan Adams who’s been with Share the Spirt for 20 years now.
That’s how today an entire Elves Alumni exists in Homer who show up on Dec. 20-21 to wrap, pack, note and tote for Daugherty and the community.
“Of course, many of them don’t get to come back. They’re in Milwaukee, or just had a baby, or whatever. Life happens to elves, too,” Daugherty reasons.
Another of the Chief of all Elves’ concerns is passing the spirit holly to the next generation. “I have said that we need somebody to step up and learn this. I’m not going to live forever, or maybe not forever in Homer,” Daugherty said.
‘Frog’ Glidden’s return
After Glidden graduated from college with her degree in Social Work, she moved to New Orleans and married Mike Werts. There she worked for a nonprofit delivering school supplies for needy children.
“We would come home for visits, but never again at Christmas time. Five years went by and we thought maybe we would move here, but we weren’t completely sure,” Glidden said.
Glidden and Mike packed their possessions, some tucked away in a New Orleans’ storage and the rest of their things for the trek north. They made the cross-country drive without realizing Hurricane Katrina was kicking up a horrendous storm behind them.
“By the time we got to Alaska, Katrina had struck. There wasn’t a question – we wouldn’t go back,” Glidden said. New Orleans was devastated by the hurricane.
The couple reckoned with the storage losses, and settled into Homer life, among them the annual Christmas holiday program.
“She became my right-hand elf, so I’m her assistant now,” Daugherty said.
For the past three years or so, Glidden turns her November-December over fully to the functions of organizing applications and provisions for spreading the good Share the Spirit karma.
“Shari made me her co-pilot. I work for Icicle Seafoods, and that is our slow season. They let me do Share the Spirit work on company time,” Glidden said. “I just love it. So many people in Homer struggle anyway during the winter months, and especially during the holidays. Because of the economy, a lot of people are having a hard time. I can share sunshine and offer a little bit of help for people around the holidays.”
The day before the big pack and wrap at the High School Commons Dec. 20, Daugherty and Glidden make their lists and check it twice. Whatever isn’t purchased in gifts for individuals from the Gift Trees, the two of them will put on their own shopping list.
Using the funds raised from the annual spaghetti feed, they finish up shopping, a task that takes until after midnight. They’ll count how many turkeys and hams came in donations or purchases, and if a gap in that number and the amount of baskets falls short, more of those will be purchased as well. If there’s extra, those will be given to the Homer Food Pantry.
Then, it’s time to settle into the finale, preparing for the day when the baskets and gifts are picked up by recipients.
Daugherty and Glidden make quite a team, but both emphasize the small program that grew into a big one couldn’t get its sled off the ground without hundreds of volunteers over time.
Nowadays, Daugherty might be sleeping a bit more peacefully when it’s all done. After all, she figures, who better to possibly take over and run the program in the future than Kelly Glidden, the prototype for all her subsequent elves?
Glidden sees the writing on the wall and doesn’t mind. “I get the feeling I’m being groomed to take this over,” she said.
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