Corrections or additions?
This article by Christopher Mario was published in U.S. 1
Newspaper on December 22, 1999. All rights reserved.
This Helping Hand Never Retired
Someone once said that the difference between an
and a pessimist is that an optimist sees the doughnut, while the
sees the hole. For Edie Immordino, life is all doughnut.
Since 1973 Immordino has been spreading her optimism to all who pass
the reception desk at Highlands Insurance Group, formerly known as
American Reliance. With a smile, a kind word, or just her perennially
happy look, this born-in-Chambersburg grandmother of three is one
of those rare and lucky people who can instantly put everyone at ease,
and with her cheeriness make others just a bit more cheerful, too.
Thing about this much optimism, though, is that it makes you restless.
Called back this year after three years of retirement to resume her
post as receptionist at the Lenox Drive commercial insurance company
— "I love it here, I love these people, and it’s better than
sitting home," she says — Immordino isn’t content just to
spread her cheer to the hundreds of co-workers and clients, attorneys
and salespeople who pass her desk each day. No, Edie Immordino’s
brand of optimism is far too big to fit behind a single desk. She
needs a two-story atrium — and she’s got one.
Just past Immordino’s desk at the entrance of the Highlands corporate
headquarters, that atrium stands filled, wall to wall, with more than
2,000 Christmas presents for 724 Mercer County children — children
who are abused, abandoned, in foster care, or just desperately poor,
and who if not for Edie Immordino might not have any Christmas
at all. They’re wrapped, they’re labeled, and they’re ready to go.
"It is a beautiful sight," Immordino says, looking out at
the veritable sea of gifts, the riot of Santas and snowmen on the
many kinds of wrapping paper making the company’s tall Christmas tree
seem like an afterthought. "Look at all the children we are
That’s the important part."
To be sure, a lot of people are involved in Immordino’s annual effort
to provide a book, a toy, and a warm. But her use of the word
is nonetheless a bit of an exaggeration. There is no organization,
no office, no public relations effort, no professional fundraiser
lurking behind the scenes. There’s just Edie, arranging, cajoling,
convincing, and organizing all year long so that a few children can
experience just a bit of the happiness she feels every day.
This mammoth effort started out with a small idea 24 years ago, when
Immordino decided she’d like to buy some Christmas gifts for a few
"I was looking to help children," Immordino says simply.
I got tired of giving to charities where I found out only one quarter
of what you give goes to children, and the rest goes to paying people
and renting offices and such. I wanted it to go directly to the
But as Immordino soon discovered, orphanages and even the term
had long become things of the past by 1975. Undeterred, she called
the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), the
that administers just about every government program for children
in the state, from special education to welfare to foster care.
got her first list: just five children.
"Then one day some of my co-workers saw me wrapping all these
gifts on my lunch hour, and they said, call and get me a couple of
names, too," Immordino recalls. "It just grew."
It grew so much that in the holiday season of 1986 it attracted the
attention of a U.S. 1 deliverer, and Immordino and her effort became
a subject of that year’s U.S. 1 Helping Hands feature. At that time
Immordino had collected gifts for 216 children the previous year and
was hoping to add another 25 or so.
That was 13 years ago. As the 1999 holiday season rolled around,
U.S. 1 deliverer returned from his rounds on Lenox Drive and announced
that "you can’t believe the presents stacked up in this lobby
— there must be a story there." And of course there was.
Today about 80 percent of the 300 or so employees at Highlands sponsor
a child as part of Immordino’s effort. "This office is so
she says. "This year we got a new president, Willis King, and
I wondered what he’d think of all this. He just said, `Edie, you just
keep on doing what you’ve always done.’ Everyone is committed."
Highlands handles sending out acknowledgement letters to donors, and
employees are holding a Christmas raffle of a computer that has
raised over $1,000 for next year’s effort. But the rest —
storing, and organizing the gifts, recruiting and managing the
— that’s all Immordino’s job.
"It’s a lot of paperwork, but I don’t really mind it,"
says. "I have it down pat. I have a Santa Claus book with the
names and ages of all the children and what they would like. In
column I have the sponsor’s name, then a column to check off when
the gift is brought in."
But that’s only for the donated gifts. Many of Immordino’s donations
are cash, rather than gifts — "people are so busy," she
says — so Immordino and a number of friends and neighbors search
the stores for bargains all year long. The after-Christmas sales are
especially useful to her effort, Immordino says, since one of the
items the children receive is a piece of warm clothing.
"We go into these stores and walk out with a caravan of carts
just loaded," Immordino says. "It’s a parade of carts through
the toy store or the Wal-Mart. We spend $500, $1,000, and the next
week we do it again."
The items collected during the year are boxed, wrapped, labeled, and
stowed away in friends’ basements. Then in September, Immordino
the Santa Claus book, which is really nothing more than an inch-thick
wad of legal-sized paper — that’s right, she does it all by hand,
without a computer — to figure out where she left the stuff, and
starts collecting it to bring it into the office.
Each gift is labeled — once again by Immordino, by hand —
with a "Merry Christmas" and then the recipient’s name, age,
and his or her social worker’s number. Just before Christmas, the
gifts are loaded into trucks and taken to Trenton, where they are
sorted and delivered by the social workers.
Some of those children are probably not too surprised by what they
find in their carefully wrapped boxes, and for a simple reason: Edie
Immordino has gotten them exactly what they asked for.
"One boy asked for a dirt bike, and that’s where I draw the
Immordino says. "But mostly they ask for clothes, or the older
girls ask for toiletries, things that usually are not the normal
children ask for. These children truly have nothing, and it breaks
my heart. One boy asked for sheets for his twin bed, because he never
had sheets. One boy asked for a warm sweater, because he said he’s
always cold. "
Even when they haven’t made a specific request, however, the children
don’t just get whatever happens to be lying around. Each gift is
specifically to the child’s age, and further geared to any individual
information Immordino gets from the social workers. Recipients range
from newborns — who get enormous boxes of baby supplies, including
bottles, diapers, and clothes — to 17-year-olds. Immordino chooses
carefully for each child, but takes a special interest in the teen-age
girls and a few others.
"I like to get them diaries and writing paper, things they can
use to write down all that they’re thinking and feeling,"
says of the teen-age girls. "It’s a hard time of life, and harder
for these girls. And then we have a gifted boy. I shop for him myself.
I spent a lot of time looking for the hardest games I could find for
him. We have to do something for him now, because I’ll tell you what:
if he turns out wrong he’s going to be one of the most cunning
the world has ever known."
Maybe those very difficult games will help. Or maybe, like Immordino,
that gifted boy will fill his life with so many activities and
that he won’t have time for anything else.
At an advanced age, Immordino has a full-time job, which she returned
to once she’d had enough of traveling the 50 states with her husband,
who is retired from US Steel’s Fairless Works. "I haven’t had
a pain since," she reports.
Beyond that and the Christmas brigade, she tries to spend as much
time as she can with her three granddaughters, ages 6, 11, and 24,
and her two surviving children, a son and a daughter (her third child
having died while a young man). And even after all this she still
finds time for a rather time-consuming hobby: tending a big flower
garden at her Pennsylvania home, and then drying the flowers she grows
and arranging them in large and intricate designs in display frames
to give as gifts.
You might think that with such a full life and so many demands on
her time, something would have to give. And in fact, this woman who
spends the year shopping for gifts to give in sets of three to
she has never met will give her own grandchildren just one gift each
this year. Not because of lack of time to shop, however. No, Edie
Immordino’s granddaughters will get one gift apiece because their
grandmother has seen how other children live, and has decided that
for her own granddaughters, one gift is enough.
"After seeing these poor children and how little they have, I
buy my grandchildren one thing and then get them a bond," she
says. "I can’t see overindulging them."
When it comes to the children who have nothing, however, the children
who are neglected or abandoned or simply poor, Edie Immordino remains
committed to indulging as many as she can.
"I retired for three years, but I never retired from helping the
children," she says. "As long as God continues to bless me
with good health I will take care of the children. This is what life
is all about anyway. I think we need a more caring world, don’t
a name. She can’t write you a letter for a tax deduction. But if you
want to help you can. Donations of brand-new items of toys and
are accepted all year. Cash is always welcome. Call Immordino at
— Christopher Mario
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