Christmas decorations usually come out as the holiday season approaches, but, for Gail Sheppard, the Christmas cup is a thoughtful all year round.
For the past nine years, since Sheppard moved to Suomi Eesti Maja (SEM), on the grounds of the Ontario Finnish Resthome Association (OFRA), she has decorated the common areas and lobby of the building.
“I started on the second floor when I was living up there,” she said. “I do Halloween and Christmas, and I had three other trees that I used to see in the common areas. I had an Easter tree, a St. Patrick’s Day tree, and a Valentine’s Day tree, ”Sheppard told The Sault Star in a recent interview.
Throughout the year, Sheppard will be picking up supplies and other items that she believes will enhance her collection of decorations. Sometimes Sheppard comes up with her own designs or she will follow a craftsman’s design and replicate it – but with a touch of her own. His creations are generally made of cardboard.
“I’ve been decorating for a while, but I’ve just gotten better over the years and when I see something in a garage sale or dollar store, I’m going to pick it up,” she said.
In previous years, Sheppard decorated all four floors of the building herself, but in recent years she has asked people in the building if they could participate.
“I used to do the other floors too, but I found people to do the floors for me because it was just getting too much,” Sheppard said. “(OFRA) always decorated the common areas but never the lobby and, three hours ago, I asked (the building manager) if I could start decorating the lobby, and she said sure enough. “
Sheppard said that sometimes after people are done decorating they ask him to come take a look. On the SEM floors, most of the decorations have been given. Others come from residents and there will always be room for decorations regardless of their size.
The main hall trim comes from Sheppard, some of which she even created by hand. At the end of November, she started decorating and it took her less than 20 hours to complete all of her crafts. Of course, the tasks are dispersed throughout the week.
“The hall took me 10 hours, the coat took me three and the tree in the common area took me six hours,” she said. “I’m taking my time because my hands aren’t as good as they used to be.”
The attention to detail in each tree is admired by anyone who passes by. Of the three trees Sheppard decorated, each is a different color – white, red, or blue – and stands out beautifully along the walls. She tops some of her trees with top hats as she prefers them to traditional toppers. The blue tree is topped with a top hat, the red tree is topped with a mad hatter top hat, and the white tree is topped with two poinsettias.
Sheppard was running a craft class in the building but, due to security concerns with COVID-19, it had to be canceled.
“There are (only) as many authorized people in the room as we were using, so we can’t have it anymore,” she added.
Decorating has become very rewarding for Sheppard; and she said she needed something to do. She especially enjoys sharing the Christmas spirit and a sense of coziness with others in the building, making things more comfortable in these difficult times.
“People are locked in so they like to come down and they sit here and look at the tree or the tree in the hall,” she added. “Or they sometimes come to my house. I have no problem doing this. I just tell them, ‘Come down, you can see it anytime.’ “