Monday, December 29, 2003

They wrap for weeks to help homeless network

The Chesnuts: Mall service raises money

By Janet Wetzel
Enquirer contributor

FLORENCE - Bill and Ruth Chesnut have enough experience to write a book on helping. But they just don't have the time.

During the holidays, their volunteer schedule would make even Santa weary.

Ruth Chesnut (left), volunteer coordinator for the Interfaith Hospitality Network's free gift wrapping service, and volunteer Susan Warning, of Fort Wright, wrap presents at Florence Mall.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
From 8 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve, the two spend nearly 12 hours a day, seven days a week at the mall. And they're not shopping.

The Florence couple runs the annual Christmas gift-wrapping station, the major fund raiser for Friend of the Family, Interfaith Hospitality Network. They joined the group, which helps homeless families, as it formed in 1993.

They've run the wrapping station for nine years, despite long hours, weary feet and hands, fast food and hurried Christmas shopping during lulls.

"This group is so important to so many people, we just want to be a part of helping," said Ruth Chesnut, 68. "We're very fortunate to be healthy and able to help. We love doing it. It's so gratifying to see people have things they need."

Gift wrapping is just their holiday gig.

Bill, 71, handles IHN bookwork and they both work on special events. They go on mission building projects through Erlanger Christian Church. They work each week at Erlanger United Ministries. And since June they've worked Saturday nights as ambassadors at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

In 1995, Bill retired as financial manager at Gibson Greeting Cards and Ruth retired after 30 years of teaching. They have two sons and one granddaughter.

The Chesnuts said their gift wrap work actually begins in August, when they buy and store gift wrap and supplies; write letters to volunteers, churches and civic organizations; and prepare a calendar to schedule about 200 volunteers to help wrap. After Christmas they take down, clean up and store supplies.

"What a wonderful world it would be if everyone did just a little of what they do," said Jawanna Spencer, IHN executive director. "They literally give up their entire lives over the holidays, and that's just a small part of their work."

Bill Chesnut said their lives are fun and fulfilling. They still get to enjoy an occasional round of golf.

"We're never bored, we enjoy all of our work, and get to help others instead of sitting home playing computer games," he said.


Do you know a Hometown Hero - someone in your community dedicated to making it a better place to live and helping others? E-mail Janet Wetzel at or fax to 513-755-4150.

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