Couple helps make season bright for area children

By | December 19, 2012

Prior to her death from cancer in 2006, Karen Phillips, for whom the pantry is now named, passed the directorship baton over to Teresa DePas. DePas said the organization relies on donations and volunteer labor to keep going.


Teresa Depas, left, director of Karen’s Pantry in Niagara, is pictured with Barb and Ray Schultz in front of stacks of wrapped Christmas gifts. (Kathleen Groeneveld | For The Compass)

“We live in a generous area,” DePas said of the numerous individuals and organizations who donate time and resources.

One unique donation is the handcrafted wood toys made by Ray Schultz and the slippers and mittens knitted by his wife, Barb, and her sister, Linda Scott.

For Barb and Ray, the pantry gives them purpose, healing and peace. Their sons, Steve and Dan, were killed in separate accidents. Their grandson, Kevin, died of cancer in 2009. Then, last September, Ray had a life-threatening fall.

Yet they laugh when they reflect on how he got started in woodwork and, ultimately, toys. Barb had seen a wood shelf at a decorating party for $10.95 and asked Ray to make it for her. He declined, saying he didn’t have any tools. So Barb bought him a $500 saw.

By the time Ray had purchased a sander and other tools to go with the project, “It cost me over a $1,000 bucks to have a $10.95 shelf,” Barb said.

Ray was soon making wooden gifts for his grandchildren. On a tour of their spacious basement workshop, devoted entirely to the Giving Tree, the first stop was a toy cabinet made for their granddaughter, Torrie, 18 years ago.

Painted cribs and high chairs are neatly stacked to the ceiling. Teddy bears and tea sets are purchased to go with the little tables and chairs. Dolls and quilted blankets, made by volunteers, go with the cribs.


One of Ray Schultz’s handcrafted wood toy table and benches will be given as a Christmas gift through Karen’s Pantry in Niagara. (Kathleen Groeneveld | For The Compass)

For children learning their colors and shapes, Ray makes wagons where blocks fit neatly together like a puzzle. Wood crayon holders go with coloring books. Mini-vans, bulldozers and even road graders equipped with wooden motors are on display.

Barb’s mother, Emma Kmit, had knitted mittens and slippers for the Giving Tree for many years. In her last days, Emma asked Barb and Linda “to keep on doing what I’m doing.”

Barb admits that she didn’t know how to make mittens and her sister, Linda, couldn’t make two-yarn-slippers.

“We could make blankets and shawls, but not mittens and slippers,” Barb said.

Knowing that their mother wanted them to carry on, they prayed, persisted and helped each other learn.

Linda, who learned to knit as a Girl Scout, knew early in life that she would one day be blind. Today, she memorizes pattern knits by touch. Her sister wraps yarns into large balls for Linda so they’re ready to knit. Once the sides are knitted, Barb sews them together. Linda also makes baby blankets for the Giving Tree.

Besides the toys, slippers and mittens, Karen’s Pantry offers families boxes of food, gift-wrapped books, teddy bears and wooden toys through the Giving Tree.

“We’ll do it as long as we can,” Barb said, with Ray nodding agreement. “We just hope we make some kids happy at Christmas time.”

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