Although officially retired, Sue Jones gently teaches others what they can do to help.
BY DONNA BOEN ’83, MTSC ’96, MIAMIAN EDITOR
Sue Jones will never forget all the times she had to scrounge around for a pencil and borrow notebook paper to complete her homework while growing up.
That’s why no youngster near her will ever go without pencils and crayons if she has anything to do with it. Fortunately, she does. The retired teacher and school administrator is proof of how much help and hope one person can provide.
Make that one extremely organized and determined person leading a vast array of eager volunteers and donors. She’s the first to say that she does not accomplish any of the following alone.
Days before Christmas, the holiday tizzy is pushed aside in the Jones’s Oxford home. Susan Horn ’72, Chris Williams ’75, Lee Hamill, and Wendy Richardson take up their assigned posts around Sue’s dining room table and start to fill homemade string backpacks with basic necessities that are either donated or purchased with donated funds. These backpacks are for the homeless.
Sue affectionately calls these women and several others her “bag ladies” because some sew and string the backpacks and others, such as these four, fill them. When she hears of a need from a teacher or a person at Oxford’s Family Resource Center, Sue posts a request on Oxford talk, the local Facebook group.
Naming her volunteer group Oxford Cares, Sue might request anything from shaving cream to pencil sharpeners. People are quick to respond, which explains the big plastic tub near her front door. The container’s rarely empty.
“I ended up putting a donation box out on my front porch because people were so generous, they just kept bringing things,” Sue said. “People want to help. They don’t always know what to do.”
No problem. That’s Sue’s strength.
In the past five years she and her dozens of volunteers have put together close to a thousand backpacks — nearly 700 filled with pencils, crayons, scissors, and such for the Talawanda district’s three elementary schools and another 300 with basic toiletries that are handed out at the Family Resource Center.
The four women currently at Sue’s table are focused on the center’s backpacks, stuffing them with essentials that most take for granted — toothpaste, toothbrushes, new socks, and razors. The assembly line starts with Lee and the caps and scarves knitted by Shala Jones Poling ’93 (Sue and Ed’s daughter) and Kathy Tate Carmean ’75, MEd ’85, student teacher supervisor at Miami University.
Knit one, pearl 96
Kathy wakes up early every morning year-round to knit before work. She has finished 96 sets of hats and mittens for all the Talawanda preschoolers and is now crafting hats and mittens for older children as well as adults. When Kathy needs more yarn, she tells Sue, who makes the request on Oxford talk. And, just like that, colorful skeins appear.
“Let me tell you a story about the yarn,” Sue said. “This year I got a call from a young woman who said her mother-in-law had passed away, and they had some yarn if I needed it.”
The young woman was Amy Restorick Roberts ’98, associate professor in Family Science and Social Work at Miami. She showed up with 10 huge shopping bags.
“Her mother-in-law was an elementary teacher and a librarian in Columbus, and when they heard we were going to use the yarn for elementary children, her father-in-law was so excited,” Sue said. “A week later they called me and said, ‘We have five more bags.’ ”
Sue — who came to Oxford with her husband, Ed (now professor emeritus of teacher education), in 1978, when both were hired at Miami—never envisioned such a large undertaking in 2016. That’s when someone at the Family Resource Center asked her to sort a huge bag of hotel-sized shampoos, lotions, and such. Sue in turn recruited Lee and Mary Jane Roberts ’68.
That might have been the end of the project except when Sue saw the recipients walking out of the center carrying the items in plastic grocery bags, she had an idea.
“That just didn’t seem very respectful so I thought I could probably make some kind of backpack.”
Plus, she could use up all of her fabric. She made a pattern and got to sewing.
These days she has more fabric than she started with. Yes, more donations, which are coming in handy as she and her volunteers are launching into making laundry bags for the homeless.
Recognized as an Oxford Citizen of the Years in 2018 for uniting a community of giving, she is deeply touched by the thank-you’s the children send her. They draw her rainbows and hearts with their new magic markers and colored pencils.
John writes, “Dear Mrs. Jones, thank you for the pencil sharpener. And the notebook, and the crayons because I do not have any.”
Brian writes, “Dear Mrs. Jones, thank you for the backpack and everything else. My favorite was the pencil sharpener and the markers. Thank you for everything. I barely could choose any favorite out of there until I found two of them.”
During August and September, Sue can easily spend 20 hours a week collecting school supplies. Looking at the stuffed envelope of thank-you notes, she affirmed, “The pay is wonderful.”
Anyone who would like to help make or fill backpacks may contact Sue at her email, email@example.com. Cash or checks are also welcome and can be sent to 118 Country Club Drive, Oxford, OH 45056. Sue uses donated funds to buy backpack supplies in bulk.