Thursday, May 06, 2021

Person of the Week

Margaret Morgan: Better to Give


In a year when a personal touch has often been missing, Margaret Morgan is ensuring those who receive a Christmas dinner from the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries also receive a gift bag intended to make an extra connection. 

Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

In a year when a personal touch has often been missing, Margaret Morgan is ensuring those who receive a Christmas dinner from the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries also receive a gift bag intended to make an extra connection. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

It’s the time for gifts—not only the gifts on Santa’s list but the things that come without asking: calendars in all sizes, decals from groups that recipients supported, embossed pencils from different organizations. It’s sometimes hard enough to figure out what to do with the gifts those nearest and dearest give, but figuring out what to do with your fifth calendar can be a real challenge.

That’s where Essex resident Margaret Morgan comes in. She makes gift bags that go along with the Christmas dinners that Nancy Pinney (a May 2019 person of the week) and a group of devoted volunteers deliver annually on Christmas day to more than 100 recipients in shoreline communities from Madison to Old Lyme.

Meals on Wheels, which does not deliver on Christmas Day, distributes flyers about the dinner with Pinney’s telephone number and people who would like meals call her.

Along with every dinner comes a gift bag assembled by Margaret.

“Nothing extravagant: key chains, calendars, pens, sometimes artificial flowers,” she says.

Margaret collects from friends and co-workers.

“I had one colleague who got about 30 calendars every year; he saved them for me,” she says.

She also buys at sales at places like the Christmas Tree Shop the day after the holiday, already collecting gifts for the next year.

The gift bags one year included colorful Mardi Gras beads donated by the Ivoryton Playhouse. Margaret recalls one recipient who asked if she had to bring the glittery necklace back the next year.

This year recipients will also receive something too large to fit in the bag: a blanket.

“It just seemed like a good year to do something a little extra special, seeing how we can’t visit with someone like we could before COVID,” Pinney notes.

And, she added, if the number of diners is greater than usual and there aren’t enough gift bags to go around, she could give the gifts separately so people would get either a blanket or a bag.

Pinney is now seeking blanket donations. Blankets should be new or gently used and washed; all should be wrapped in plastic so volunteers can wipe them down before giving them out. Blankets can be dropped off at the Chester Gallery, 76 Main Street in Chester or the First Church of Christ Old Saybrook at 366 Main Street.

The blankets, in fact, were key to Margaret’s willingness to be interviewed.

“Please don’t make the story about me. Make it about the blankets,” she asked.

The Christmas dinner project grew from a holiday meal that former Old Saybrook first selectman Roger Goodnow and his family hosted at Clark Memorial Field, better known locally as Fireman’s Field, in Old Saybrook. They also delivered meals to people who were not able to get to the site, with names supplied by Meals on Wheels.

Providing the dinners was taken over by the Shoreline Soup Kitchen & Pantries (SSKP) and, some 18 years ago, Pinney volunteered to deliver.

Privacy concerns now have changed the process slightly. Meals on Wheels no longer gives out names, but distributes the flyers so people can call Pinney. SSKP has underwritten the cost of the meals along with a donor who wants to remain anonymous. This year the donor, a local doctor, is footing the entire bill.

Margaret got involved with the project because she was a friend of Pinney’s. They had attended classes together at the now defunct Lyme Academy of Art and she had also worked at the framing shop Pinney operated in Old Lyme.

She already had a gift box at home where she deposited things for unexpected presents and that inspired her to start creating the gift bags.

Margaret, who is both a realtor and a yacht broker, had planned on a career in law when she started college. Although she changed her mind and switched both majors and colleges from Georgetown University to Kenyon College, years later she did get a paralegal certificate and worked briefly in the field.

What she likes about being part of Pinney’s Christmas team is that it is something she can do on her own.

“No meetings, no sitting around,” she says, adding that when she lived in New York City and worked in corporate banking, she had her fill of meetings. “I used to go to meetings all the time; I don’t want to sit with a cup of coffee or tea. I wanted to do something without meetings.”

A weekend seminar at Lyme Academy brought Margaret to this area some 30 years ago.

“I loved it,” she recalls.

For many years she painted portraits, not of people but of their pets. Choosing the animals was an easy decision for her.

“A coat is easier to do than skin tone,” she explains.

This year, rather than paper bags, COVID precautions mean the gifts will come in clear plastic bags. The packaging might be different, but the sentiment will be the same.

“It’s about the gesture; sometimes people are not getting anything else,” Margaret says. “It makes people a little bit happier.”

To donate blankets, new or gently used and washed, all packaged in plastic, drop them off at Chester Gallery, 76 Main Street, Chester, or First Church of Christ Old Saybrook, 366 Main Street, Old Saybrook. To contribute small gifts of Margaret, email her at essexconn@gmail.coma.

Rita Christopher is the Senior Correspondent for Zip06. Email Rita at

Reader Comments