Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Teacher tackles
Christmas card tradition

There's a new "Christmas Card Lady" who's carrying on the legacy of Helen Daniels.

Merlinda Oania seized the opportunity to produce picture books for hospitalized children as a way of giving back to the community, as well as helping her Waipahu Intermediate School students learn English, after Cindy Delgado, who had taken over the volunteer project from an ailing Daniels in 1997, had to give it up.

Daniels, who received cards from around the world to produce her books, died in June 2000 at the age of 82. For 12 years, she produced hundreds of books, using original poems and used Christmas cards. Every Christmas, she delivered them to children at Shriners Hospital for Children, Kapiolani Medical Center and the Ronald McDonald House.

Delgado, who had two young children when she assumed Daniels' "labor of love," took a hiatus in 2001 because the family was moving and she was expecting her third child. She had hoped to resume making the books in time for delivery this Christmas. But in April, she and her husband, Carlos, found out that their 5-year-old son, Charlie, had cystic fibrosis.

In May, she told Kokua Line she was hoping that someone else would be able to carry on the project. She said Charlie is doing well, but that she needed to focus her attention on her family.

Oania responded.

"I do give a great thank you to everyone out there who supported me while I was doing this project," Delgado said. "I am very grateful to Ellen (Morishita, who helped by coordinating donations and trimming cards) and Merlinda for taking on this project. I wish them much success. Also, a big thank you to the community from me."

Meanwhile, Oania, who has taught English as a second language to seventh- and eighth-graders at Waipahu Intermediate for 14 years (before that, she was at Aiea Intermediate for five years), said she "always wanted to do (the project) on my own."

Then she realized it also was a way to get her students to realize "there's something (good) that could come out by learning English."

For example, she said, by producing the books, the students broaden their vocabulary. A typical format is "A is for angels, B is for books, C is for Christmas," etc.

"When they get better, maybe they will be able to make a story," Oania said.

For now, she has them working in pairs to try to produce at least one book in time for delivery this Christmas. She's hoping to have about 20 books this first year.

Asked what advice she received from Delgado, Oania said she was told: "Don't worry about doing too much. Don't make it too complicated."

For her part, she said she intends to "start small and we'll go from there."

She's also looking to get her two sisters involved, because they also work with students.

If you have Christmas cards you wish to donate, mail it to Merlinda Oania at 98-596 Kaimu Loop, Aiea, HI 96701, or call her at 486-0236 if you have a big box and wish to make a delivery.


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