Many people know about the Easter Bunny, but have you ever heard of the Valentine Fairy? During the day, she is the assistant to the director of the School of Language, Culture and Society. But in her off time, Karen Mills has been Santa and the Valentine Fairy, bringing treats and joy to children of faculty members. And every day of the year, she is a Fairy Godmother to students in Waldo Hall, providing free treats to anyone who needs a homemade snack.
Originally a food pantry was set up in the school’s faculty lounge, but it wasn’t getting used much. So Mills decided that she’d start making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and baked goods three days a week and set them out for students to grab. The items are free but there’s a donation jar which faculty and staff regularly contribute to, and they bring her jars of peanut butter as well. Now Associate Professor Mehra Shirazi is also helping with sandwiches so Mills has reduced her time to making treats twice a week. Additionally, WGSS Instructor Kryn Freehling-Burton helped with morning treats for a number of years.
“It is hard to stop doing something that you have started,” Mills said. “I have received heartfelt notes from students even though they don’t know who is providing the food. They leave the notes under the empty plates for “whoever is making these treats.” When I am putting food out on the table, students come up and thank me for doing it. One thank you will give me energy for a month to keep doing it.”
During the pandemic when classes were remote, Mills decided to get dressed up for the holidays and bring treats to children of faculty at their homes. She dressed as Santa for Christmas, and as a Valentine Fairy, and even brought May Day treats. For families who lived outside the area, she mailed packages with Post-it notes and pens.
“I knew that everyone was struggling dealing with the pandemic and I tried to think of ways to bring them joy. Everyone was very appreciative of my efforts,” she said. “I still have the image of one of the children jumping up and down when they saw me as the Valentine Fairy with a box of chocolates for them.”
Mills said she was raised by generous parents who were always helping others and learned to love volunteering herself. She has been a member of Altrusa International Inc. of Corvallis since 1992 and loves working at their Career Closet, which provides professional clothing for low income women who are interviewing for a job or newly hired.
“I think once you start volunteering it is impossible to stop,” she said. “Hoping to make a difference in the world is what keeps me motivated.”
~ Theresa Hogue