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By Staff | Dec 16, 2011

A Matlacha woman, who has dedicated more than 60 years of her life to volunteering for the Salvation Army, along with her son, donated more than 100 boxes of clothing and plush toys for children this holiday season.

Helen McClary, who will be 92 in January, had her first encounter with the Salvation Army when she lived in northern Virginia across the river from the Pentagon. She said she was walking with her kids at a shopping center when she witnessed a lot of people having a good time at a church.

McClary decided to stop and ask what was going on and was invited inside to have lunch with her sons, while being informed about the Salvation Army. She instantly began volunteering for the organization, which over the years has turned into a family affair.

“It is a family charity,” McClary said about the Salvation Army. “It has brought in my whole family.”

The long-time volunteer begins collecting clothes and toys throughout the year to donate in time for the holidays. This year, McClary and her son, B. Pat O’Rourke, donated 45 boxes of clothing and 60 toys for the children.

McClary said she notes if the clothing and toys should go to a girl or boy, along with the appropriate age of the gift on the box.

This is not a new tradition for her, she said she has been collecting things and giving it to Salvation Army for more than 60 years.

“We learned very early to help other people,” McClary said about her childhood memories of her mother. “We learned how to give at home.”

She said her mother used to pack an extra sandwich and piece of fruit in her and her siblings’ lunch boxes, so they could give food to their classmates. McClary said her mother told them to tell the other children that they could not finish all the food, so they would accept it.

In addition to donating items, she also has donated many years to manning a kettle to ring the bell during the holidays. McClary said she has heard so many heartfelt stories over the years about the Salvation Army.

Some years, she said, Pine Island has given more in kettle donations than larger more affluent communities in Southwest Florida.

Other organizations have aided McClary in her effort to provide items to the Salvation Army. She said the Matlacha Hookers, with the help of Cindee Tolliver of the Trader’s Hitching Post, have donated hundreds of Christmas stockings full of toys and games to the Salvation Army for the holidays.

The organization holds a special place in her heart because it is one that sincerely gives and helps others. McClary said she talks about the Salvation Army every chance she has, no matter where she is to inform others of everything the organization does.

Another reason why she enjoys volunteering and being a member of the advisory board is because it is an organization that encourages individuals to keep on giving. She said the Salvation Army teaches work ethic so individuals have to give a little for what they receive.

“It gives people a pride in themselves,” she said. “The Salvation Army helps you and you help someone else.”

The act of volunteering for McClary will never end.

“Volunteering to me is almost selfish because you get more than you give,” she said.