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'Mystery Elves' undertake merry mission in New London

New London — Debbie Phillips and Annita Harris, lifelong friends and members of the Shiloh Baptist Church, are on a mission to bring joy — in the form of holiday wreaths and decorations — to those who might need a reason to smile after such a difficult year.

The "Mystery Elves" plan to deliver wreaths to every nonprofit residential site within the city, and a few beyond, as well as to state group homes during the next week. They're also providing wreaths to New London homebound seniors, veterans and cancer survivors who request them.

They've put their elf ears on during the past week and approached local business for donations of materials with heartwarming results, Phillips said. The church agreed to let them use the Family Life Center as an assembly site, and during the past few afternoons, the elves have been personalizing the plain pine wreaths with ribbons, bows and other embellishments.

Each wreath will be made with the recipients in mind, Phillips said. The wreath for Safe Futures transitional housing, where families impacted by domestic violence are living, will have small animal figures on them that the children can keep, Phillips said.

Phillips, who is retired, said she thought of the nonprofit agencies because she worked and volunteered for some, including Safe Futures when it was known as the Women's Center, and also has been a client of the agency and of Sound Community Services.

"We're hoping to put a smile on someone's face and let them know we're thinking of them," she said. "I know what they need besides the usual socks, gloves and products that come in. We are going to personally deliver it and put it on their front door."

Harris, also retired, runs a nonprofit group called 50 Shades of Pink to promote awareness of breast cancer. She said when Phillips approached her with the Mystery Elves idea, she suggested they also include cancer survivors and homebound seniors.

"I can't feel my fingertips," Harris joked Thursday evening over the phone, after spending the afternoon assembling wreaths. She worked as an event planner, and said she's enjoying the opportunity "to spread some love, peace, joy and happiness during this (COVID-19) season."

They made their first delivery to the Veterans House on Mountain Avenue on Wednesday, and on Thursday went to a couple of sites on Lee Avenue. While they were hanging a wreath, Harris said a man came out of a nearby house and asked if the wreaths were for sale.

"I said, 'No. Do you want one?'" Harris said. He was a veteran.

Donors, including Home Depot, Lowes, Girard Toyota, Whaling City Ford and Ocean City Job Lot, have not hesitated once they hear who will receive the decorations, Phillips said.


"Mystery Elves" Annita Harris and Debbie Phillips of New London assemble holiday wreaths Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, at their temporary workshop on the stage of the Shiloh Family Life Center in New London. The women decorated the front of the stage and lined along the edge of the stage are the wreaths that they have finished, which will be given to nonprofits and nonprofit residential sites in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

How to participate

Cash donations can be dropped off Monday through Friday from 2:30 to 5 p.m. at the Shiloh Baptist Church Family Life Center, 1 Garvin St., New London.

Homebound seniors, cancer survivors and veterans in the city who want a wreath can call Debbie Phillips' landline at (860) 439-0424 or text Annita Harris at (860) 460-6179.


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