NEW PALESTINE — Whenever Ellen Taylor would drive by the Sugar Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation center near New Palestine, a little voice inside her head would tell her to stop in to see if they needed a helping hand.
The New Palestine resident drove by many times over several years before the voice spoke loudly enough one day in 2018 to convince her to turn into the center’s parking lot.
Since then, Taylor has gifted the residents there with countless donations of clothes, Christmas gifts and personal essentials.
One resident, 42-year-old Michael Myers, calls Taylor his guardian angel.
When he first showed up at the center, he had nothing more than the hospital gown on his back.
Taylor promptly stopped by a department store and bought him a few packs of underwear and socks, as well as a few sweatshirts and sweatpants.
“He said he’d never had anyone treat him with such kindness in his entire life,” said Katy Catron, the rehab center’s business manager.
Taylor said it was the voice of God that called her to stop at the nursing facility that day in 2018 and offer to help.
“When you hear that voice, you should follow it,” said Taylor, 73, who moved to New Palestine from Avon seven year ago to be closer to family.
Many of the residents at the Sugar Creek center don’t have any friends or family to speak of, she said, and many lack the most basic necessities when being admitted to the facility, which takes patients on Medicaid and Medicare.
Catron said many residents are moved to tears when they receive gifts as simple as socks and underwear from Taylor.
“They’re always so thankful and surprised that somebody outside of this building cares about them. It’s nice for them to know someone out there cares about them, especially when they don’t have family,” the business manager said.
“Ms. Ellen just has a really good heart. She stays in constant contact with me, checking all the time to see if we need anything,” she said.
Stopping in unannounced at the rehab center that first day was out of her comfort zone, said Taylor, who is typically soft-spoken and shy.
“I’m not really one to get out there and get stuff going, but I felt compelled by God to go back there to that nursing home and see what’s going on,” she said. “I walked in and thought, ‘I don’t even know what to say,’ but I asked if they needed any help.”
Turns out they did.
The activities director said they could use some help getting donations of clothing and arts-and-crafts supplies, so Taylor set to work.
She reached out to her friends and neighbors through the Next Door neighborhood app and her Silver Sneakers class at the Hancock Wellness Center to rally donations, and she received a great response.
She started making regular stops at the rehab center, dropping off the latest donations, and has continued doing so ever since.
When the COVID pandemic set in, she sat at home and worried about the residents, who were cooped in their rooms without much to do. So she set in motion an effort to collect DVDs, books, magazines and arts-and-craft supplies to give them.
That process sparked a new idea — gathering gifts for the residents at Christmastime.
Having never done fundraising or soliciting donations before, Taylor worked outside of her comfort zone and began reaching out to local businesses for help.
She wrote letters to individuals, business owners and pastors, and was overjoyed with the response she received.
“Surprisingly, they all came through, and we had a great response, both this year and last year,” she said.
Taylor arranged to pick up stacks of clothing, blankets and other gifts to give to residents at Sugar Creek.
“A lot of them said they wanted things like headphones and books, so we tried to get them things they wanted as well as things they needed,” she said.
“The director there told me some of those residents had a better Christmas than they may have had in their whole life,” Taylor recalled.
Not wanting to shine the spotlight herself, Taylor points out the people who volunteered to purchase, wrap and deliver presents.
Four to five local churches, the Hancock Wellness Center, and the owners at Tucker Realty and Sugar Creek Brickhouse all played a huge role, she said.
The owners at Sugar Creek Brickhouse took on buying and wrapping gifts for two-thirds of the nursing home residents, and they also made them Christmas cards, Taylor said.
Monetary donations from those supporters and others throughout the community go into a fund that helps purchase socks, underwear, and other necessities for new residents who arrive with next to nothing.
“If someone has a need, we try to fill it. Right now we’re searching for 5X clothing for one man, which can be hard to find,” Taylor said.
On Monday, she dropped off three new winter coats that were donated by Realife Church in Greenfield. One resident who received a coat was moved to tears.
“It can be heartbreaking when you think about how the little things like that can mean so much to someone,” Taylor said.
The residents who arrive with just the clothes or hospital gown on their back are especially moved by the simple gifts of things others take for granted, like socks and underwear, she said.
“It’s the little things like that that I think really help restore their dignity, which is what we’re trying to do for them. We all need help at some point in our lives,” she said.
“The disadvantaged are sometimes unnoticed,” Taylor continued. “If they don’t have family there to support them, or don’t have the financial means to help take care of themselves, I think there are enough people in the community who can help these people get back on their feet.”
She said it feels good to make a difference for people in her community.
In addition to rounding up and delivering donations at the rehab center, Taylor also makes time to read to second- and third-graders at New Palestine Elementary School.
She also has a full-time job in guest relations at Flanner Buchanan funeral homes, where she greets visitors and assists families and funeral directors.
“Things like that give me satisfaction knowing I can do something to help out,” said Taylor.
The ways she chooses to give back can all be traced back to that little voice inside her head.
“When you have that call, when you have that pull, it’s important to act on it,” she said, “because it’s what you’re being called to do at the time. You’ve got to listen to the voice of God.”