Volunteer Olivera Dessieux makes giving a year-round pastime

Tracy Haun OwensOur Town Neighbors

When Olivera Dessieux’s children go shopping with her, they keep an eye out for things that have kid appeal. It’s not because they want to bug their mother to buy for them, but because, from May to December, they’ll be assembling a couple of duffel bags full of items for foster-care children their own ages.

“It’s good for my kids to have their minds on someone else,” Dessieux says.

Her 12- and 6-year-old aren’t the only ones shopping. Every year for about the past 10 years, Dessieux has held a community Christmas drive for a local not-for-profit that benefits children. The deadline for giving is mid-December, but she begins her drive in late spring or early summer so that people can keep the kids’ needs top-of-mind before the holiday crunch starts.

This year her charity of choice is the Matthew 19:14 Ministries-Foster Care Compassion Closet. A nurse practitioner at Gastrointestinal Associates, Dessieux heard about the charity from a foster parent who told her that foster children often move their belongings in grocery bags and trash bags. She is asking donors to choose an age and gender for a child and fill a new duffel bag with shoes, socks, hygiene items and whatever else they are moved to give, like candy or small gifts.

Every year, she says, the right giving opportunity presents itself just as she’s ready to look.

“It always finds me – I don’t find it,” she says.

Luc and Olivera Dessieux with Katie Wheeler, the assistant principal of Lonsdale Elementary, delivering the backpacks collected in last year’s charitable drive

Last year she and the community filled 300 backpacks with supplies for children, giving 150 to Lonsdale Elementary students and 150 to children who are served by Bridge Refugee Services. Before that she had done boxes of love for the children at Susannah’s House, a faith-based recovery program for mothers. Dessieux’s church, Cokesbury United Methodist, is a strong supporter.

She posts pictures of the annual collection process on social media so that people may share with their neighbors or churches.

“My friends get excited,” she says. “People love to see where it’s going.”

She also asks people to collect toiletries throughout the year, which she and her husband, Luc, and their kids take to KARM with care packages on Christmas. Some of their friends have gotten involved with that visit, too.

Giving, she says, “makes people more aware of those around them.”

Dessieux was born in Bosnia and came to this country as a refugee when she was a teenager. She remembers that as an uprooted teen she received a friendship box from a German family, with chocolate and candy. It also contained an anonymous message of care and encouragement. She says the personal thought made a huge difference to her.

“If you can brighten someone’s day, do it,” Dessieux says. “Someone did it for me, and I’m just paying it forward.”

Last year she collected at Rocky Hill Pharmacy and will likely collect there and at the Gastrointestinal Associates locations. For information about collection points, or to volunteer, you may email her at [email protected].

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