Holiday cheer for sweet reasons

Opal’s Spirit of Giving brings joy to those with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease

Staff photo / J.T. Whitehouse Trudie McCoy of North Jackson is continuing a mission she began over 15 years ago by providing gifts and a caring shoulder to those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She does it through Opal’s Spirit of Giving, a program started for that very purpose, using her loving mother’s first name.

NORTH JACKSON — Area nursing homes with residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease know Trudie McCoy.

She’s the force behind Opal’s Spirit of Giving, a program that has been making the residents of those homes feel loved and wanted through her annual Christmas gift bags.

McCoy, 72, is the daughter of Opal and Edward Rose from southern Ohio. When she was young, she married Kevin McCoy and moved to North Jackson in 1993 when Kevin opened his trucking business that carries the family name.

McCoy helps with paperwork and the daily office operations of the business. She also ran several businesses including a small jewelry business and an antique shop in North Jackson named Trudies Antiques.

While she was running the business, she learned that her mother, at age 82, was developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Other family members in southern Ohio were trying to care for her at home, but when McCoy’s brother Archie Rose called her and said she was trying to escape the house and wasn’t sure what she was doing, McCoy dropped everything and headed south.

“It was a three-hour drive,” McCoy said.

She got there and called 911 to ask what to do. An ambulance came and took her mom to the hospital where doctors told the family Opal needed to be in a nursing home in Coshocton.

“I helped get my mom into a nursing home right from the hospital,” McCoy said. “I wasn’t allowed to visit for a while, so I didn’t know what to expect. When I was finally allowed, I went and here came my mom, smiling and hugging me.”

The social aspect and well-trained staff helped her work around her impairments and gave her a new outlook on life.

“Every week I would visit the nursing home,” McCoy said.

She said at Christmas she brought her mom presents and noticed other residents didn’t have family or didn’t receive gifts. Before long, she took matters into her own hands to make sure everyone received something during the season.

“I would take my mom shopping,” McCoy said. “Then we would prepare presents and even made blankets for the other residents. My mom would then push a cart through the halls delivering the gift bags.”

She said it was a big part of who her mother was.

“My mom was always a giving person,” she said. “If she had a peanut butter sandwich and you had nothing, she would end up eating only half and giving you the other half.”

McCoy continued the nursing home Christmas bags while also running her antique store. She would often store the Christmas bags with gifts, clothing and other wants for the nursing home residents in Coshocton. The program almost ended when Opal died in 2013.

McCoy said she eventually closed the business, but right after her mom died, two women walked into the store and handed her two bags filled with new items to hand out in the nursing homes.

“I never saw the women before, nor have I seen them since,” she said. “They may have been angels.”

Her regular customers at the store said she should run the program locally, and that there was a need. At that point, she felt her mom’s presence.

“I felt my mom tap my shoulder and say ‘Let’s get this show on the road,’ and that is how it all began,” she said.

McCoy formed Opal’s Spirit of Giving and began putting together the Christmas gift bags. The first year she did 30 bags with help from friends. The second year it grew to 82 bags.

A typical bag would have items such as body wash, adult diapers, slippers, socks, sweat pants and shirt, blankets, a deck of playing cards and even a book.

The program continued to grow and last year she handled 317 bags going to 12 different nursing homes in the Mahoning Valley. She visits the nursing homes when she can and gets to see the joy the residents have.

“This is the mission God has given me,” McCoy said. “I have to make sure the people in the nursing homes know they are loved.”

Brookdale Senior Living Clare Bridge of Austintown program director Vanessa Montgomery said the Opal’s Spirit of Giving program has been a real blessing for the residents.

“Every year Trudie calls me in September and gets a list of needs,” Montgomery said. “Our residents do have families, but often they only receive one gift. Trudie makes sure every resident gets four or five wrapped gifts.”

She said people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s disease still have feelings and they want to be loved.

“When Trudie comes with the gifts, the smiles made that day can last into the next day,” she said.

Montgomery was so impressed, she nominated McCoy for a Hometown Heroes Award a few months ago. She was also nominated by Shepherd of the Valley for a Mahoning Valley Legacy Award in 2019. She was one of 17 nominees and one of the three selected to receive the honor..

McCoy also worked with the nursing homes to develop an angel tag identifying specific needs and wants.

“This is God’s work and what he wants us to do,” McCoy said. “It’s not about me. This is about the many churches and hair salons and individuals who donated the items and help put the bags together. It’s about showing the people in the nursing homes they are loved.”

McCoy said she plans to keep Opal’s program going as long as she can. She doesn’t take monetary donations.

While it’s still a handful of months away, those who want to help this Christmas season can start planning by taking a tag and filling a bag.

For information, call 330-559-6091, or visit the Opal’s Spirit of Giving Facebook page.

Have an interesting story? Contact J.T. Whitehouse by email at jtwhitehouse@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.


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