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Shirley Hosler is her own one-woman aid society

Shirley Hosler stores items that she gives away to charities, students, soldiers, children and more on her closed-in front porch. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

SARANAC LAKE — Shirley Hosler is sitting on the front steps of the small, bungalow-style house where she’s lived for 40 years, her white hair tucked under a bright red Jesus ball cap, wearing a Lake Placid Olympic Training Center lanyard like a necklace. Above and below her on the steps are boxes of the supplies she collects to give to area students, seniors, children, soldiers, the homeless and anyone else she considers needy, which may include friends, family and people she meets over the course of her day.

Hosler is currently collecting items for a Thursday trip to Fort Drum, a U.S. Army base in Jefferson County, where she’ll drop off a carload of supplies.

“I can’t go to Fort Drum because of the virus,” says Hosler from her porch. Instead she’s being driven there in a van loaded with donations, and then taken out to a celebratory steakhouse dinner with two of the soldiers.

Saturday is her 84th birthday.

“I’ve never had a birthday party before,” she says matter-of-factly. “This’ll be the first one.”

Hosler is equally matter-of-fact about her personal history. Her young brother, father and mother all died when she was a child, and she grew up in an orphanage. “I was in a home when I was 8,” she says. “I never saw them again.”

Hosler is a one-woman aid society, and has been for most of her adult life. She ran a local thrift shop for 38 years, and when that closed in 2007, she simply took her redistribution system private.

“I just didn’t want to give it up,” she says, and instead thought, “What can I do now?”

She takes a call on her porch from a friend who wanted to know if she needed puzzles. Hosler said she had puzzles; what she really wanted was peanuts for the soldiers. Shortly thereafter, another friend drove down from Malone and unloaded paper bags filled with winter hats, sweaters and butterscotch, and then wished her a happy birthday.

“It’s a lot of work, and a lot of people don’t have time,” she says. “But I’ve got plenty of time.”

Hosler sorted the new merchandise from her perch on the stairs, putting the candy into one box for Fort Drum, sizing up a pair of corduroys, and folding the hats into another box for “any school that needs hats.”

Inside her front door, her closed-in porch is its own jumbled thrift shop. Every surface and much of the floor is stacked with boxes filled with games, clothes, baby items, toys, stationary, coats and more.

“I’ve got more stuff than I did last year,” she says. “What I don’t want, I give to the thrift shop.”

Hosler points out her nearby shed, now covered with a canopy of orange and red leaves. It’s also filled with items to give away.

“Right now people are hurting,” she says. “We’ve got to start helping each other.”

Hosler says her brother delays the check he sends her for her birthday, hoping she’ll spend it on herself. “So I went and got a whole bunch of pens, and toothpaste and cocoa butter for the nursing homes,” she says with a smile.

She does allow that the steak dinner is a birthday celebration, and thus actually for herself rather than for others. But you get the sense that if she could package it and give it away first, she would.

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