By BRIAN BUSH
If you are a resident of the Williamsport Home Apartments, then you're probably used to getting a holiday-themed surprise outside your door at least once a month.
That's thanks to The Paper Kids, a group of six cousins who have been leaving treats and decorations for residents of the Williamsport Home Apartments since 2007.
The Paper Kids are Jane Mertes, 17; Katherine Mertes, 17; Rebecca Helminiak, 15; Alexandra Mertes, 14; Jenny Mertes, 11; and Maria Helminiak, 10. The cousins got their name after they started signing the notes that accompany their gifts, "Love, The Paper Kids."
All six cousins live in Williamsport and they all attend St. John Neumann Regional Academy except for Jane, who attends Williamsport Area High School. The Paper Kids started making holiday gifts after their aunt and uncle became Sun-Gazette carriers for the Williamsport Home Apartments.
"We started out just giving candy to the 130 people on our carrier route," Jane Mertes said. "But then we decided to do it for all the residents. Now we make 18 dozen treats and decorations."
After the first three months of leaving holiday surprises, The Paper Kids decided to make something for each month.
"We started in October and thought the residents would like some candy for Halloween," Jane said. "The next month was Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and it just started rolling from there. We thought we should do something every month since there's a holiday every month except August. We had to come up with something for August. We made it back-to-school themed. This year we're going to do a Little League theme."
Jane listed the months of the year and their corresponding holidays.
"January is New Year's; February is Valentine's Day; March is St. Patrick's Day and Mardi Gras; April is Easter; May is Mother's Day and Memorial Day; June is Father's Day; July is Fourth of July; August is back-to-school and Little League; September is Labor Day; October is Halloween; November is Thanksgiving; and December is Christmas."
The Paper Kids get creative when it comes to making their holiday gifts. "For Father's Day last year we made dollar bow ties using oragami," Jane said. "Then we left a note that said 'Have a cup of coffee on us.' The year before, we left a note saying 'The father is the ruler of the house' and gave everyone a ruler."
Many of the holiday gifts are traditional items, according to the youngest Paper Kid, Maria Helminiak. "For New Year's we give them hats and blow horns and necklaces," she said. "For Mardi Gras we give them masks and beads."
Other holidays are not so traditional.
"Last June we did a crazy day where we picked a random day and gave the residents something we like. We made animal and leopard print ornaments and hung them on everyone's doors," said Alexandra Mertes.
On one occasion, the Paper Kids' non-traditional gifts were exactly what was needed.
"For Christmas last year we gave the residents tree ornaments and first-aid kits," Jane said. "We put aspirin in every first-aid kit with a note saying 'take this if you feel chest pain or shortness of breath.' A few weeks later we heard that the aspirin had saved one of the resident's life. She wrote us a note telling us that when she called 911 they told her to take aspirin and she didn't think she had any until she remembered the first-aid kit we gave her. So she took the aspirin and wrote us a note saying 'you saved my life.' "
When they're not saving lives, the Paper Kids are making the Williamsport Home residents smile.
The kids have received many warm words from the residents.
"They tell us that the gifts we give them are special because some of them don't have families who visit," Jane said. "Every time we see the residents outside they always tell us how grateful they are and how much they look forward to our gifts every month."
Ruth Smith, a resident of the Williamsport Home apartments since October, is one grateful recipient of The Paper Kids' holiday treats.
"Every holiday, including even Mardi Gras, we received a treat left at our door from The Paper Kids," Smith said. "They leave the most appropriate gifts for whatever the occasion. It makes me and all the residents feel special and cared for. They are often discussed during our gatherings for all the kindness they have given to the residents of the Williamsport Home Apartments."
The Paper Kids' great-uncle, Uncle Joe, also is involved in making the holiday gifts. At 96, Uncle Joe is proud of his great-nieces' kindness. "They're all good kids," he said. "I think it's wonderful what they're doing. It's teaching them to respect their elders and care about older people."
The Paper Kids are already hard at work creating holiday gifts for the coming months.
Because they have so many treats and decorations to make, they start well in advance of the actual holiday.
"Right after we pass out the gifts, we start thinking about what to do for next year," Jane said. "At Christmastime we were looking for handkerchiefs for Father's Day. We have stuff prepared for next Easter already."
When asked if they would keep on making holiday treats, The Paper Kids said they were in it for the long haul.
"Katherine and I are going to college in two years and we'll be doing it until then at least," Jane said. "But Jenny's only 11 and Maria's only 10, so they have a lot of years left."