ELKHORN -- This month, as people in need turn to the WC Resource Center and Food Pantry in Elkhorn to pick up groceries, many will get a bit of holiday cheer, too -- in the form of a handcrafted Christmas ornament.
This is the fourth year that Lake Geneva artist Pam Ring has created ornaments to be distributed to WC Food Pantry customers. Ring has made 200 ornaments each year, although this year the count went up to 204. She said Geneva Lake Arts Foundation members also contributed some, bringing the total number of ornaments handed out to about 230.
Ring and her husband, Ray, a retired certified public accountant and playwright, purchased their home four years ago through Sal Dimiceli Jr. and soon got to know Dimiceli’s father, founder of the nonprofit charity, The Time Is Now to Help.
"Pam contacted The Time is Now and said she had over 200 ornaments she’d like to give to the children," said Sal Dimiceli Sr., who thought the food pantry would be an ideal place to distribute them.
"You see these children coming in to the pantry who are often quite bewildered," he said. "It’s nice to see if they do come there, they get something like a Christmas ornament. They look forward to it every year, if in fact they’re still in the condition of needing food.
"When I go into homes and see the children, they say, ‘Oh, see the Christmas ornament I got from the food pantry.’ They have a look of delight on their faces. They’re happy. It’s the spark of Christmas and something special that they receive."
Dimiceli marveled at Ring’s efforts.
"Over 900 ornaments that this woman has made, by hand, each one of them," he said. "Pam is another one of those people who just wants to make a difference in others’ lives, and all of us together can do that."
The pantry, which moved into larger quarters in Elkhorn at the beginning of 2015, serves some 600 families each month, according to its director, Jim Drescher.
"People don’t realize it, but poverty is prevalent in Walworth County," Pam Ring said.
"Everyone has to pitch in and do something to help if they can," she said. "If you have a talent and you can use it in some way to help someone, you should do that. Some day you may need some help and you’re going to hope that somebody can help you."
Her ornaments are whimsical, like a chunky cinnamon stick reindeer, complete with a red pom-pom nose, google eyes, chenille antlers and a tiny knit scarf.
She’s used premade pieces but personalizes them with her own touches, like adding a scrap of lace and hand-painted words, like "Naughty or Nice" or "Happy Holidays" to a flat, wooden stocking. She’s topped popsicle stick snowmen with button eyes and a cap cut from the fingertip of a glove.
"We have enough (fingerless gloves) to run several productions of ‘Oliver,’" joked her husband.
All the materials she uses for ornaments are kid-proof and kid-friendly -- felt, wood and foam, but no glass -- and generally made to be handled.
While Ring keeps a stash of materials on hand, she also shops arts and crafts stores for items.
The project takes her a few months, so she starts creating the ornaments in summer.
"When you go into a craft store in June and ask, ‘Where’s your Christmas department?’ they look at you like you have two heads," she said. "I’m smart now. I overbuy so that I have something to start with in June."
Ring pays for the cost of the materials herself.
She’s gotten a couple of cards from people thanking her for the ornaments.
"After the first year, (Pam) got some feedback from the people who were running the food pantry," Ray Ring said. "They said this was really nice because a lot of these kids didn’t have anything to give their parents or their grandparents, and they used the ornament to give as a Christmas gift."
Pam Ring is a retired marketing director for an East Coast-based retailer, but she’s had an artistic bent since childhood.
A Michigan native, she moved frequently during her childhood because of her father’s job.
"Our average stay was about 2 1/2 years, and it was hard to make friends because then I had to leave," she said. "I decided to do artwork because it was portable and I could do it by myself."
Art continues to imbue her life, from the collage classes she teaches each Wednesday at the GLAF gallery, to her business cards, each one affixed with an original tiny collage.
Primarily a self-taught artist, Ring has worked in watercolors and oils, but prefers collage.
"It’s the ultimate green art," she said. "I like the idea of picking something up off the street and giving it a special place.
"I work small. I don’t do sofa art. If I were to look at a big canvas and somebody said, ‘Fill it,’ I’d probably fill it with a lot of small pieces."
The WC Food Pantry isn’t the only organization to benefit from her art. She’s donated some of her work for fundraising at the Geneva Lake Conservancy and Special Methods In Learning Equine Skills, a therapeutic riding facility near Darien. She also teaches art at Arbor Village, an assisted living residence in Lake Geneva.
Ring remembers her mother often making items for church bazaars.
"My mother and father instilled in me charity and kindness always," she said.
"I would encourage people if they don’t do art to do something else -- even if they want to sit and read a book to someone.
"Money is nice. And if I had money -- tons and tons of it -- I would give money. But I don’t have tons and tons of it. And sometimes there are other things that bring happiness, like a little decoration. Those are things that are important, too."
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