BERWICK — One Berwick woman’s writings coupled with the efforts of local volunteers and youngsters will make Christmas a little brighter this year for children as far away as Oklahoma.
Iris Berry, who wrote a story called “Tree of the Pure In Heart,” has spearheaded an annual campaign for approximately six years in which youngsters write letters for children who may be hospitalized.
The idea spawned from the book, which she wrote about 10 years ago about a tree named True Heart.
She would read the story to children, and they would bring cards to hang on the tree in her backyard, called True Heart. (They didn’t this year because of the cold weather.)
From there, Berry shipped the cards to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans.
This year, though, she has expanded her giving to include five other hospitals in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Shreveport and Oklahoma City.
On Friday afternoon, volunteers rummaged through the numerous cards stacked on top of each other at Berry’s home.
The cards were made by local schools, churches and organizations as well as a school in Vinton.
“Look at this!” Berry pointed at the cards while talking to the group. “I think it’s marvelous.”
Berry said Friday she was unsure exactly how many cards were caked atop her lengthy dining room table. She estimated there were about 3,000.
“It’s grown and grown and grown each year,” Berry said, adding that she hopes it will continue each year.
Take it from patients who have received cards, not necessarily ones generated through Berry’s works, that the power of the written word — as well as some creative minds — do make an impact.
“Some cards made me really happy, and some made me laugh,” said Gweneth Dohmann, 7, of Berwick, who was hospitalized for three months in 2009 at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans and underwent more than 20 surgeries following a lawn mower accident that injured her foot.
While it wasn’t around Christmas time, her mother, Sharon Dohmann, said the cards provided the same benefit.
Now, S. Dohmann volunteers to collect Christmas cards from Holy Cross Elementary in Morgan City for the drive, while G. Dohmann, along with classmates and other students at the school, made cards this year.
“A lot of times when you’re in that (hospitalized) situation, you ask how can I ever give back? How can I ever say thank you, and this is a perfect way to do it,” S. Dohmann said.
Sheila Lewis of Morgan City, whose daughter Brianna Lewis, 5, was hospitalized 3 years ago, also has joined the effort as a volunteer. It’s something she said she will continue to do.
Another local, Taylor Bigler, 18, of Morgan City, who was critically injured in an accident during the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday and left unable to walk initially or attend school for months, was touched to receive the cards.
“They kind of brought you up, kind of give you hope,” Bigler said, who now walks with no problem and has returned to school.
While the cards are the main project — at least on Friday afternoon — there’s more to Berry’s Christmas spirit than just them.
For the past six years, she has been putting up numerous Christmas trees to match her various collections.
She got the idea from a set of Lennox plates she has and began decorating the trees to match those on the plates.
The idea, though, has expanded to match other collections she has, and she now has trees with themes such as the 12 Days of Christmas, Native American, Victorian, and a Grinch tree “for those who hate Christmas,” she said.
The trees start out small in size and grow as she purchases more decorations.
Each year, she has added trees, and as of this year, she has 64 trees (14 more than in 2010), each decorated in different themes. They are found upstairs and downstairs in her home, in her garage, in her backyard and even in an additional cottage behind her house.
She said she begins putting together a supply list in March for what new trees she wants to add and then has the supplies ordered from different markets.
The actual artificial trees began going up Sept. 1, and she tries to have them ready for viewing at Thanksgiving.
Currently, she is awaiting word from the Guinness Book of World Records to see if her display qualifies for a record.
“I’m looking for walls,” Berry said. “If Guinness says they have 75 (trees) somewhere, believe you me, we’re going to be looking for wall space.”