NEWFANE – Denise Noble is a familiar figure around her hometown – particularly as the holidays draw near and she scrambles to find food, clothing, toys – and even Christmas trees with all the trimmings – for the needy in her community.
For years now, she has been called “Mrs. Santa” and “The Christmas Tree Lady,” and since mid-May, she has been able to add director of the First Baptist Food Pantry of Newfane to her list of titles.
To Samantha McGill, who grew up with Noble’s daughter, Stefanie, she has always been “like a second mom,” McGill said.
“She is the most kindhearted person I have ever met,” said McGill. “I have known her for at least 15 years, and she has always been a helper. I grew up in pretty tough circumstances, and I spent the majority of time at Denise’s. She was always there to lend a helping hand or offer a shoulder to lean on.
“She always goes above and beyond to help people,” she added. “And, now, as an adult with a large family of my own – I have six kids – anytime I have a problem or am in need, if Denise can’t help me herself, she finds an outlet to help.”
Noble is concerned, as the holidays approach, that she will not be able to provide for her community. She recently chatted about her mission.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Newfane and in First Baptist Church of Newfane, where my granddaughters are now the sixth generation. I have four children, ages 27 to 16, and three granddaughters (ages 1 to 6). I was helping people on my own for years before I started going through the church outreach programs eight years ago. I’ve been an instructional associate for 22 years in the Newfane School District.
How did you get started helping the needy?
I started with artificial Christmas trees and lights and ornaments at least 25 years ago, because I figured if I collected artificial trees, we wouldn’t have to do it again the next year because people could keep them.
I’ve always helped people – I guess I wear my heart on my sleeve – but I’ve always felt the need to pay it forward. I’ve always held benefits for people who maybe had their house burn down or had sudden accidents and needed help with medical or funeral expenses.
I’m a person of faith, and I believe in guardian angels in heaven and on earth. I’m not a guardian angel, but I work for them, because I’m sought out when people need help, and I find out about it.
I’m a divorced mother of four, raising kids for the past several years by myself. I work two jobs. I don’t do this for the notoriety or a pat on the back. I do it because God put me on this earth to do this. I make a nuisance of myself – I know I’m a pest – but I need to get the word out.
Tell me about the needs of the people in Newfane.
The needs are not being met, and I’m trying to find a way to make it happen. It’s very hard to get help out here. I say the long arm of generosity doesn’t reach all of the way out here to Newfane. The rural poor don’t have transportation. People get help in the cities, like Niagara Falls and Buffalo, but the people out here are in desperate need of things, too.
Through our church outreach programs, we have free community dinners, free summer lunch program for the kids, free clothes closet, we collect new and used books and magazines, school supplies and footwear, winter bedding, and we have a Christmas Toy Drive.
What, in your experience, is the face of the rural poor?
I’d say 90 percent of the people I’ve helped in the past 27 years have been the working poor, the elderly and the disabled. These people have jobs, but they’re barely making it from month to month. It’s common sense – the price of gas, utilities and food has gone up – but their paychecks have not gone up.
We helped 123 people at the First Baptist Food Pantry of Newfane in May and provided food for 1,109 meals in May. In October, we helped 309 people and provided food for 2,781 meals. (Food is largely provided through the Food Bank of Western New York, with supplements from other sources.)
What do these holidays look like?
Sixty people took applications at the food pantry for Christmas help, and if there are two to three kids for each application, we’re talking a need for thousands of dollars. We’ll have to perform a miracle, or we’ll have to turn kids away. Last year, we were only able to bring Santa to five kids. Some families won’t even write down a request for toys because they need winter coats and boots and blankets because they’re wrapping their kids up more at night because they aren’t using as much heat.
I work through Christmas Eve, because I’ll get a call from someone who thought they had something and it fell through, and they won’t have anything under the tree when the kids get up. I know I can’t save the world, but I can try to help one person at a time.
Do you get much volunteer help?
I have church volunteers, community volunteers, and my family helps me. I was doing all of this out of our house for years before we started partnering with the church. My kids have always known that no matter what, they have me, a home and food. They all help. I love the adults they’ve become.How can people help?
We always need volunteers, and anyone can call me if they want to donate at (585) 205-6928.
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