Lincolnton resident Kimberly Perkins and her Mary Kay family worked together this holiday season to adopt 1,000 “grandparents” living in nursing homes and rest home facilities across the country.
The 24-year-old West Lincoln High School graduate, also known by friends, family and co-workers as “Ms. Mary Kay,” serves as a future executive senior sales director for the globally-known cosmetic, beauty and skin care company.
Her heart for the elderly grew larger, she said, after enrolling in nursing school for a short period in 2009.
It was during her time in Wilmington, where her husband Matthew was stationed as a Marine at the time, that she completed school clinicals in nursing homes and cared for the sometimes forgotten portion of the population, she said.
Following his medical discharge from the military, the couple, which met at West Lincoln High School, returned to Lincoln County, where Matthew now works as a Sheriff’s deputy.
Perkins said the nursing home work escalated her love for the elderly and prompted her to later step up and reach out to them in a special way.
“So many of them never received Christmas,” she said. “It broke my heart.”
While not originally her idea, Perkins learned word of the operation a few years ago involving another Mary Kay consultant who packaged certain products as gifts for patients in a Texas nursing home.
On Saturday, Perkins delivered satin lip sets to all 140 residents at the Brian Center in Lincolnton, the rest home she has adopted for the last two years.
Perkins noted she adopted another Lincolnton facility in past years.
“It’s about helping others, not just ourselves, at Christmas,” she said.
The five-year Mary Kay veteran chose the particular lip product since most elderly individuals lose moisture in their lips as they age.
Since Perkins’ great-grandfather, who passed away in January 2012, spent much time in a palliative care facility in Hickory, she not only understood how little companionship elderly residents receive throughout the year but also how excited they get when receiving gifts.
“They clap their hands,” she said. Others will hug her and call her “sweetheart” — her presence a reminder to them of their own grandchildren.
Each November, she collects donations from the community and uses the funds to cover the cost of the products she administers.
This year, she carried out the effort in memory of her great-grandfather, nicknamed “Pop,” who grew up in Vale, worked as a carpenter and always taught her and her six brothers the value of giving and hard work.
“He had the most giving heart,” Perkins said.
She laughed as she remembered how “Pop” made the great-grandchildren shuck corn and pick other vegetables from his field.
“Most 24-year-olds have never strung a bean,” she said.
Tears gathered in her eyes as she reflected on how to best describe the man and how he always gave her “tobacco kisses,” kisses that smelled like his chewing tobacco, she said.
He never missed an opportunity to tell her how proud he was of her Mary Kay success, she noted.
“What I would give to have those kisses again,” she said.
Perkins called him the family “glue,” since he hosted Christmas at his Vale home each year.
While Wednesday will be the second Christmas without him, Perkins and her family still plan to gather at his home and share stories of his memory.
“He was a great example of what I want to become,” she said. “He never spoke a bad word.”
Many laughed when she revealed this year’s goal of 1,000 “grandparents,” much higher than last year’s tiny goal of 100.
“People thought I was crazy when I set that goal,” she said, “but we’re about to hit that number now.”
The number includes elderly individuals in nursing homes nationwide that Mary Kay consultants adopted under Perkins’ leadership.
All consultants join the effort by choice, she said; the company does not require or force any employee to take part.
The holiday operation isn’t the only charity handout Perkins has helped initiate over the years.
She has also raised money to buy sunscreen to send soldiers overseas and is gearing up to give out Mary Kay gifts to mothers through the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte.
Perkins has additional future plans — what she considered to be her ultimate life goal — to establish a Lincoln County facility for abused and neglected children — a “House of Hope,” she said, where children can live.
Her love for children is equal to her love for the elderly, who often regress to a “child-like state” in their later years, she said.
Because many of Perkins’ family members were abused as children, she has a desire to protect the younger generation and show them love.
Her family adopted a little girl, now 4, whose mother has been in and out of jail. Kensley often accompanies her big sister, as she calls Perkins, to hand out holiday gifts at nursing homes.
Perkins praised donors for their support of the effort each year. Her brother, Josh Huffman, a military man, even donated his deployment money to her last year, she said.
She credited her consultants with helping her start the now-annual project.
“They were the reason I started in the first place,” Perkins said. “I needed something to get them excited about, and it was something we could all rally behind.”
In keeping with “Pop’s” giving spirit, Perkins hoped she and her husband would one day have the finances to tithe 90 percent of their total income — keeping only 10 percent.
“He always said you can’t out-give God,” she said.