ORLAND, Maine — It’s only October, but already the eight or 10 women who make wreaths for H.O.M.E. Co-op in Orland are bending to their craft. They will ply balsam tips and wrapping wire almost until Christmas Day, and in the process they will create approximately 2,000 handmade wreaths and 3,000 handmade balsam centerpieces.
For their work, the women will receive $5 per wreath, said Beth Taylor, H.O.M.E. board member. The wreath-makers are either unemployed or underemployed, and the seasonal craft work supplies them and their families with income used to provide food and gifts at holiday time, and fuel for keeping warm during the deep cold of January and February, she said.
Karen Smith of Bucksport has made wreaths for 20 years for H.O.M.E. She also makes wreaths to sell on her own, and makes others to give to friends and family to help them get into the Christmas spirit, she said. She makes 64-inch, 48-inch, 24-inch and 12-inch wreaths.
“The sixty-fours are taller than me,” she said. laughing. “They have to haul those in a great big truck.”
She said she got involved in the wreath-making program for one reason.
“I was a single mom of three and I wanted my babies to have the best Christmas. When I began,it took me an hour to make a wreath .and now it takes me 10 minutes. I work a good 15 hours a day — eat, sleep and breathe wreaths. It’s a habit now — my kids are all grown up — but I enjoy it. I take pride in my work. Every year. the elderly housing where my mom lives gets a great big huge decorated wreath. I make it for free. I also make military wreaths that are sent to Fort Bragg.”
Smith said she first became affiliated with H.O.M.E. through its low-income housing project. And even though she initially was not attracted to wreath making, a friend insisted on teaching her to make wreaths. At that time, when her children were still small, she had no car, no license, no job and no child support. Making wreaths became the thing that held things together.
“My sole purpose in learning to make the wreaths was to see that the kids had a Christmas — to see the look in their eyes on Christmas morning — there is nothing like the feeling of seeing that and knowing it came from your labor. What a gift.”
After the wreaths are delivered to H.O.M.E., staff and volunteers at the agency decorate them with pinecones and ribbon bows. They also add candles and decorations to the centerpieces.
“It’s quite an amazing operation. Everyone gets involved,” Taylor said of the wreath-making program, which has been in place more than 30 years.
Lisa Scott, who manages the wreath making program, is no stranger to the craft. She has spent more than a few years making wreaths, but is taking a break from it this year.
“It’s very important,” she said of the program. “People depend on making wreaths to help their families have a Christmas and pay for fuel oil.” Scott recalls a time when she would work full time, then go home and make wreaths evenings and weekends to help make ends meet.
Wreath-makers must supply their own balsam tips, but H.O.M.E. supplies wire rings, pine cones and bows.
“It’s a lot of work,” Scott said. “But we all pitch in and help during wreath season.”
Taylor said the finished wreaths are sold to companies and organizations throughout the United States.
In addition to running the wreath-making program, H.O.M.E. operates five shelters for the homeless, a social outreach program, a food bank, soup kitchen, recovery barn and thrift store, a learning center which includes a daycare center, a craft store, a pottery studio, a free medical clinic, a garden program and other programs to assist those in need.
Taylor said H.O.M.E. outreach workers have reported they receive five to seven calls each day from those in need of food and shelter. She said the agency’s operating budget, because of a drop in grants from foundations, has dipped from $1.2 million to $865,000.
Proceeds from the sale of the wreaths help fund H.O.M.E.’s Christmas program, its shelter program and its food bank.
For more information or to make a donation to H.O.M.E., visit homecoop.net or call Taylor or Sister Lucy, founder of H.O.M.E., at 469-7961, or mail a check to H.O.M.E., P.O. Box 10, Orland ME 04472.