When more than 3,000 Cumberland County nursing home residents receive a written Christmas greeting this year, it will be thanks to one humble soul who expresses love through her ornate handmade cards.
A sticker with the words “Handmade with Love” on each of her cards concealed the identity of formerly anonymous creator, Crissy Raynor, who’s been making droves of Christmas cards from her modest Fayetteville apartment since 2020.
“My heart’s always been with the elderly,” she says, speaking through tears. “People often forget about them, and we can learn a lot from them. I started doing Christmas cards because it shows someone is thinking of them, they’re loved, and the Lord loves them.”
Raynor could have stayed anonymous, but Ronda Martz, a friend of Raynor for more than 10 years, felt it was time to share her friend’s story.
“She is one of the most cheerful and thoughtful people I know,” Martz says. “ … Her life story of struggle and sickness and pain, and yet striving to encourage and be a blessing to others, touches me very much.”
‘I’ve been making crafts all my life’
As she sat in an easy chair in the living room of her apartment, the evidence of Raynor’s years of hard work were on display close by: In a corner of the living room was a shelf with thousands of cards neatly filed in boxes. But it was the Christmas cards displayed on her living room table that drew all the attention. Raynor, wearing a flowery black and white dress, explained how her cardmaking started.
While growing up, her father would drive a church bus for senior citizens who couldn’t drive themselves. She would go with him. “I just enjoy older people,” she says, recalling the experience. “The biggest thing is listening to them. I know how much I enjoy going to the mailbox and getting a letter or card I wasn’t expecting, so why wouldn’t they.”
Raynor once owned a florist shop, and there was an occasion where she had balloons leftover from a wedding. She suggested to the client that they be taken to a nursing home for residents there to enjoy.
“They just loved them,” Raynor says. “I got into cards because they visually popped, but I’ve been making crafts all my life.”
She also used to participate in a local holiday craft fair, making German ornaments so she could earn enough money to buy Christmas presents for loved ones.
“Crissy’s always been talented with her hands,” Martz says.
This year, Raynor is sending the 3,000 cards to about 20 nursing homes, focusing on smaller facilities. Churches tend to focus on the larger ones, she says, so she researches online and asks around every year to see whether new facilities have opened.
“The Lord has given me the talent,” she says. “Since I’m homebound myself, this is something I can do.”
‘I have to do the best with what I’ve got’
Raynor’s year has been extremely tough. She was diagnosed with leukemia two days after Christmas last year. At the time, she thought she had pneumonia because just sitting up in bed exhausted her. During the same time frame she was diagnosed with cancer, she also had a hernia rupture and was life-flighted to Duke University Hospital, where she had emergency surgery and started chemotherapy right away.
“I was in the hospital more this year than I wasn’t there,” Raynor says.
During one hospital stint, she was there for 39 days, went home for two days, and then had to go right back.
While hospitalized, Raynor says she looked for ways to serve God, chatting with and encouraging medical staff who helped her. A hospital occupational therapist offered to bring Raynor some supplies if she’d be willing to make some cards for Duke patients. With a new mission, Raynor made more than 400 birthday and “thank you” cards for the hospital to give to patients, even though she herself was sick.
She said having a purpose helped get her mind off chemo and her pain since she couldn’t have typical pain medications during procedures. In fact, Raynor was in the hospital this year when she turned 50.
“I have to do the best with what I’ve got,” she says.
Even through chemo and diverting time and energy for her card project for Duke, Raynor beat last year’s total cards by more than 1,000, totaling 3,018 cards. She says she prayed for strength to do more than last year’s amount so she could encourage even more senior citizens this year.
“This may be the last card they get or the last Christmas they get,” she says. “I want them to know the Lord loves them and has not forgotten them.” She added that many elderly are forgotten by family and friends, or may be the last living member of their family.
“I can see the tears in your eyes as you said that,” Martz says from the loveseat of Raynor’s apartment.
This year, owing to her medical expenses, Raynor used scraps, old Christmas cards and other supplies. Senior citizens from her aunt’s church even saved their cards from last year for her to take apart and repurpose.
‘I try to make something for everybody’
When Raynor was healthier and more mobile, she would go to sales after Christmas to get a jumpstart on supplies for the following year. She improvised a lot this year, but anyone seeing her beautiful handiwork wouldn’t have guessed it.
In one card she created this year, she designed a modern-shaped Christmas tree from multiple scraps of wrapping paper with different sayings on it. Another card had eight layers of cardstock to make a red poinsettia flower.
Raynor prays before putting the cards in envelopes, then prays the recipient will like the design.
“I try to make something for everybody, and not everybody likes glitzy,” she says.
Many recipients tell her they like Santa Claus cards.
“I think Santa brings back memories because it lights their faces up as soon as they see a Santa,” she says.
Since Raynor had such a lofty goal this year, she created a one-woman assembly line. She organized and assessed her scraps first, cut out all the pieces, and then her creativity took over and she created unique, three-dimensional cards.
Raynor previously had to hand-cut all of the card components, but she was gifted a die-cutting machine — which uses a metal blade to cut specific shapes out of card stock and various fabrics — by a friend of a friend who even paid to ship the heavy machine from out of state.
“If you’re doing things for God, He will always make a way,” she says. “You make an effort and He will open doors for you.”
Raynor’s sister, Amy Button, has also been helping. When it’s time for distribution, Button and a group of ladies from her church deliver the cards to nursing homes all around the county.
“You find out who your true friends are when you can’t get out and about anymore,” Martz says.
Not only has she been a supportive friend to Raynor through her cancer, but Martz is battling cancer herself. She says Raynor is one of the most giving people she’s ever met. She then gently referenced Raynor’s previous time of homelessness, living in a van.
“That shows the strength of character that she’s been through a lot, still smiles, and still thinks of other people,” Martz says.
“It’s not fun to go through something like cancer, but the Lord got me through it,” says Raynor, who’s now cancer-free and trusting God with other major health issues. “No matter how bad this world can get, He gave us all a gift and we’re here to get His word of love out.”
‘It doesn’t cost a dime, just your time’
Raynor hopes her story will prompt other people to serve in the community. They don’t have to scale their involvement the way she has, nor do they have to spend much money, she says.
“Everybody has something they can do; it’s the littlest things that can mean a lot,” she says. “Just call a local nursing home and ask how you can help.” She suggested youth groups could visit throughout all holidays of the year.
“It doesn’t cost a dime, just your time,” she says.
Button has started a GoFundMe account for Raynor to offset the costs of buying envelopes and printing a sentimental statement to glue inside each card. She makes all of her Christmas cards a standard size so they fit into size A2 envelopes, which she orders en masse.
“She has a heart for reaching those in society often overlooked and in need of hope,” Button says on the site.
To contribute, go to www.gofundme.com/f/crissys-cards-of-hope. She would also gratefully accept Amazon or craft store gift cards.