During the holiday season, the Lewis-Mason-Thurston Area Agency on Aging produces a wish list for senior citizens and disabled clients.
Traditionally, donors shop for items on the wish list and send them in a package. This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the agency is asking for monetary donations through PayPal or by mail instead. Clients’ desired items are still listed this year so donors know where their money is going.
“We know many of you are loyal supporters who enjoy shopping for the clients you chose. But we hope you can still find the joy of giving through your thoughtful donation,” said Marla Lund, of the agency.
For many clients who will spend their holidays alone, receiving a gift through the wish list is indescribably meaningful.
This is the case for Charles Tippett Jr., a 61-year-old veteran who was a first responder at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He lives in Reliable Place, housing provided through the nonprofit Reliable Enterprises for low-income, disabled people.
Tippett will spend the holidays alone. For him, the idea that a stranger would go out of their way to make his life better is the most precious gift. Getting a new vacuum wouldn’t be too bad, either.
Over the weekend, Tippett spent four hours talking with The Chronicle about his life. His story, while greatly slimmed down in this article, proves the value of the Area Agency on Aging’s annual wish list. There will always be fascinating, heroic strangers in the community who remain strangers, but spreading joy through a selfless gift is one way to extend love to them.
Tippett’s memories from early childhood are filled with country music. His parents were highly talented musicians with ultra-famous friends. Every Friday and Saturday night, the living room of his family’s Portland home filled with cigarette smoke, steel guitar and his father’s angelic voice.
Notable guests included Willie Nelson, Buck Owens and Loretta Lynn. And one night, a man in a black suit and a deep voice came knocking. Young Charles ran to the door.
“He looked at me and I go, ‘Hello.’ And he goes, ‘Hello, I'm Johnny Cash,’” Tippet said.
Looking back on these memories, Tippett began to choke up. They were as fleeting as they were beautiful.
His mother’s health — along with the health of his parent’s relationship — was declining. She was either spending days sleeping or days awake.
“She was bipolar. But back then, they didn't know anything. Back in the 60s, you were either ‘sane’ or ‘insane,’” Tippett said. “So my sister Crystal was basically the one that took care of me and raised me. And then I got older and my mom remarried.”
At first, the relationship Tippett and his brother Jack had with their new stepfather was a good one, with gifts of antique toy cars. But one day around sixth grade, something in his stepfather seemed to switch as he became abusive.
Traumas and Heroism
Once, the stepfather threw Tippett into a wall back-first. The effects of that injury have had a lifelong impact, eventually culminating in daily pain and his current state of disability.
Through the help of sisters Crystal and Gloria, Tippett said he escaped his brutal home life in high school.
At age 16, he became one of the youngest volunteer firefighters in the history of Oregon. The minimum age then was 17, but his fire chief agreed to look the other way due to Tippett’s strength and moxie. After serving in the U.S. Army at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, he made his way to New York City for his firefighting career and became a lieutenant.
Sept. 11, 2001, was his day off. That morning, when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, his phone was ringing off the hook. He made his way to a firehouse in Lower Manhattan near the towers.
He arrived to a scene he now describes as post-apocalyptic.
“Next thing you know, you hear this god-awful rumble, and here comes the North Tower,” Tippett said. “I ran out and I got the firefighters and I got them inside because they were running toward the tower. I told them, ‘Get in here, and get in here now.’”
As the street filled with smoke and debris, the air around the house went pitch black. With masks and helmets on, he and other responders were guided by screams to people they would carry inside.
“You can see all the dust and the black all around their face. And you can see it in her mouth. And they were choking,” Tippett said. “They were telling me, ‘Tell my wife I love her, tell my daughter I love her.’ And I says, ‘Pardon my language, but damn it, I don't want to hear this. … You will see your wife. You will tell your wife and daughter you love them.’ Because they’re crying and they're dying. And I was holding them in my arms and I had them there. And I could see the life start to go out of their eyes.”
His heroism that day left Tippett with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His mental health was only worsened by the murder of his brother Jack and later the death of his wife Tina.
Out of three marriages, Tippett said she was the love of his life.
Tina suffered an inexplicable health event that led to her death just under four months after the two were wed.
Coming to Centralia
Tippet first arrived in Centralia at the Chevron on Mellen Street by Greyhound Bus in 2010. Crystal was living in the area with a biker by the nickname “Too-Tall.”
Things with Crystal and Too-Tall went south, and Tippett ended up homeless for a time. Through the Veteran Affairs office, a great deal of medical care on his back, Reliable Enterprises and Adult Protective Services, Tippett now lives a quiet life in his ground-floor apartment.
Through the Area Agency on Aging, he has a caregiver from Catholic Community Services who comes three times a week for only $9 a month.
The first time he ever got a gift through the agency’s wish list, it was a vacuum.
“I was just blown away because (it was from) no one that I never met,” he said. “No one's ever done anything like that for me before.”
This year, he’s hoping to replace the vacuum that no longer sufficiently keeps his apartment dust-free.
Tippett’s greatest joy in life is his daughter, Jacquelyn, who lives in Utah. She is named after his late brother. He last saw her in August, but his trip was cut short when he sustained a spiral fracture to his right leg.
Thinking of spending the holidays without Jacquelyn,the last member of his family he is connected to, brought him to tears.
“She texts me Merry Christmas and says she loves me, but it's just too far away. But she always tells me. When I say ‘I got enough money to come and stay, I'm coming to visit,’ she's thrilled. She goes, ‘I can't wait to see you, daddy,’” he said. “If you take a look at her and take a look at me, you can tell she's my daughter.”
Choose a client from the list and send donations through PayPal at www.lmtaaa.org/light-of-hope or mail a check to LMTAAA 2404 Heritage Ct. SW, Olympia, WA, 98502. Include the client number. Donations are tax-deductible and will be accepted through Dec. 16.
For questions, call Lund at 360-748-2524 extension 201.
Client #1 is a 41-year-old woman with mobility challenges. She has a low income and her rent is more than half of it. Her request is to be able to purchase shampoo, toilet paper, body wash, baby powder, ankle socks and a space heater for her bedroom. She thanks donors in advance.
Client #2 is a 60-year-old woman who is recently living alone. She has several chronic health conditions and would appreciate household items such as toilet paper, body wash, shampoo, conditioner and cleaning supplies. If it’s possible, she would very much appreciate items for a holiday meal.
Client #3 is an 80-year-old woman who has several serious medical issues. She resides with her disabled son; both have very limited incomes. Her request is for help affording paper towels, toilet paper, a house coat/nightgown, a full-sized comforter for her bed and a holiday meal to enjoy this season.
Client #4 is a 70-year-old woman who lives with her spouse in a low-income apartment. By the end of the month, the couple has difficulty getting kitty litter and food for their beloved cat. The pet odor has also become a problem. They would like help purchasing deodorized cat litter, bleach and baking soda, and fixings for a holiday meal.
Client #5 is a 61-year-old veteran who lives alone and struggles with daily pain and emotional challenges. His vacuum cleaner recently broke and he would love to replace it. He asked to convey his thanks.
Client #6 is a woman in her early 50s who has heart and breathing issues. She recently lost her long-time partner and her cats. Thankfully, a neighborhood cat recently adopted her. She would like to restock her cupboard with laundry soap, paper towels and toilet paper. She would also love to get more kitty litter and cat food.
Client #7 is a 72-year-old woman who recently had a serious health event which left her far less able to continue her volunteer work. This holiday season, she would appreciate help buying socks, a bathrobe and pajamas.
Client #8 is a woman in her mid-80s. For decades, she has lived with the long-term effects of a very serious accident. She would like basic household items, such as laundry soap, paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Her dog has made a special request for a toy and treats.
Client #9 is in his late 70s and lives alone. He has multiple physical health challenges including his vision. His wish is for a new vacuum cleaner and warm socks.
Client #10 is in her early 80s and continues to volunteer for her church. She also enjoys spending time knitting hats and scarves for those who need them for the winter. Her request is for more yarn and knitting supplies to continue to help others with her handcrafts.
Client #11 is an older gentleman who has several chronic health conditions. His sister and her children live with him, and he is grateful for their help to remain in his home. He could use new bed linens and bath towels.
Client #12 has an untreatable brain tumor, which has affected her eyesight and balance. She works hard to keep a positive attitude. Her limited income often runs out before the end of the month, as do her incontinence supplies. She would be grateful for help purchasing supplies and cat food. She thanks donors in advance.
Client #13 is a woman who lives with a nervous system disorder caused by a medication reaction decades ago. She has very little left over after paying her rent. Her comforter is old and thin from being washed so much, as are many of her clothes. She would appreciate help affording new items.
Client #14 is a veteran dealing with severe health and mood issues. Also, in this past year he lost his vision and much of his independence. He is a very outgoing person and misses the social interaction he used to have. He would like the fixings for a holiday meal to share with a few friends.
Client #15 is a gentleman in his late 60s who has limits to his mobility. His constant companions are his cats. His wish is for help getting them veterinarian services for checkups, vaccinations and overdue flea treatment. His cats are grateful, in an aloof sort of way.
Client #16 is a woman in her early 60s who changed clothing sizes and would love a gift card to purchase items that fit better and vitamins.
Client #17 is in her mid-70s and lives with her beloved cat in her home, with some support. Her request is for cat items such as kitty litter and food. But of course, not just any food. Her cat has clear preferences for canned food with “lots of gravy.”
Client #18 is a woman in her early 50s who had health setbacks this past year. She now requires more in-home care. She is grateful her health still allows her the ability to paint. She would be grateful to receive more acrylic paint and canvas boards.
Client #19 is in her early 70s and is keen on caring for herself the best she can, even with health issues. Her wish is simply to stock up on healthy foods and vitamins. She thanks donors in advance.
Client #20 is a woman in her mid-60s who has several medical conditions which require in-home support but is proud to still manage mostly on her own. Her wish is for slippers with Velcro so they stay on her feet better, sweatpants that are easy to put on and socks for edema.