The basics: Shirley Harper, 78, is a Fresno volunteer who retired from her business selling camper shells for trucks when she started losing her eyesight around 15 years ago, caused by a stroke to her optic nerve. She is legally blind and lives with her daughter and son-in-law. Harper has three daughters and six grandchildren.
What she does: Harper has knit more than 5,000 beanies over the past 10 years for a number of groups in the Fresno area that help victims of domestic abuse, foster children, elderly, and people who are homeless or living in poverty. Harper recently donated a number of hats to renters without heating at the Summerset Village Apartments. She has also knit and given away dozens of scarves and lap robes.
Harper also wrapped more than 1,000 shoeboxes over the past two years for Operation Christmas Child, which ships gifts to children living in poverty around the world. She had to stop wrapping this summer because of back issues. Her knit hats are also packed into these special shoeboxes.
Why she does it: “It’s just my way of paying God back for what he’s done for me. That’s all God asks us to do, is to care for others.”
Harper believes God sends everything where it needs to go. “That love is there, even for people who don’t believe in God – God’s getting to ’em! And I’m helping. I’m doing almost as much as a preacher does at church when he reads God’s word to ’em.”
The turning point: Harper started knitting items for a convalescent home through a local ministry group that is no longer in existence. Later, a friend at her church and local coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, Yolanda Callahan, asked if she also wanted to help wrap shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.
Details, details: Harper works to keep her loss of sight from dampening her spirit. “I feel that God allowed it to happen for a reason, and I hope that I do what he wants me to do – and this must be it.”
She loves children’s reactions as they pick a knit cap. “They get so excited and that in turn gets me excited, because you can only make so many for your family! After the first year, they say, ‘I’ve got a hat, don’t give me two more!’ ”
What others say: Emilie Spalding, 18, says her grandmother is always thinking of others. “She loves to joke around with us and she just loves to provide for everyone. If she can help in any way, she will. She’s not lacking in her generosity.”
Callahan agrees. “I get enthralled every time I see her excitement over a new batch of wrapping paper, a six-pack of her favorite glue sticks, a sale on Scotch tape or yarn, a pretty princess shoebox where the only thing that’s needed is a few pasted-on cutouts. Shirley prays for every person that will receive her gifts. It’s not just a matter of numbers to her – every single thing she makes is made especially for that one particular person that God has in mind.
“Her attitude is one of humble service, of giving, of love. Shirley imagines the joy on the face of each recipient and is blessed by that picture.”
How you can help: Anyone wishing to donate yarn for Harper can call 559-225-8212 or drop it off at Calvary Chapel of Fresno, 3425 E. Shields Ave., Fresno, with a note that it’s for Shirley Harper and Yolanda Callahan (who will help deliver the yarn to Harper). Harper prefers bright-colored yarn from Red Heart, which makes thicker strands that are easier to knit with, but gratefully accepts any donation. Those interested in donating and volunteering for the local donation drive of Operation Christmas Child can email email@example.com.