Cambrian: Slice of Life

A gift for giving

Abbie Chapman of Cambria needs a few volunteer elves and some recipients’ names, all to help her give away hundreds of presents during this holiday season. The elves will wrap or decoratively box those brand-new items, and Chapman wants the “nominators” to tell her about needy people who would benefit most from receiving an unexpected gift.

She hopes to hear from churches, nonprofit organizations, individuals … anyone with good suggestions and fast wrapping skills.

Chapman plans to oversee gift-prepping sessions in her garage and then find a hall — perhaps the Veterans Memorial Building or a church hall — from which to dispense the giveaways.

She wants to start a foundation to make “The Day After” gifting project an annual event to provide another “celebration of what Cambria is.” For this year, to give people time to respond, Chapman plans to give the presents soon after Christmas, rather than before or on the holiday itself.

She’s already given the concept a dry run with the son of a young single mom Chapman met in Paso Robles. The two came to her home a few days later, and the excited little youngster immediately homed in on a brightly colored race-car set.

“That little boy was worth the price of admission,” a tickled-pink Chapman said. The Buddhist woman believes the set “was definitely here for him. It was the only race car I bought.”

Chapman usually is ultra-thrifty, she said. “I’m a much better saver than a spender.” She acknowledges reusing several times the paper plate on which she butters her toast each morning, and she has a host of other means for pinching those pennies.

In fact, until this project, Chapman said, she’d managed to live on only her Social Security income each month, despite having a set of physical disabilities that would be daunting for anybody else.

“I was Cambria’s most anonymous neighbor,” she said with a laugh. Now, the ultra-saver has become a bit of spend-thrift on other people’s behalf.

Around Thanksgiving, Chapman received a postcard mailing from an entrepreneurial magazine. The small mailer promised to “show me how to save money by spending $1,500.”

Maybe it was time to spend, she thought, but not the way the postcard suggested. Instead, Chapman decided to help the economy and buy small, special things for other people who are having a tough time this year.

She intended to spend the recommended amount of $1,500, but is already up to about $5,000 or so. “I’ve never had a little idea in my life,” Chapman said with a big grin and bright eyes. “I haven’t seen the credit-card bill yet. But I’ll be OK.”

Searching for gifts at the mall is difficult for someone with acute scoliosis from a battle with polio in 1952. Her spine has extreme curves and internal fractures, and she’s undergone 10 back surgeries, none of which succeeded in correcting her posture or her acute pain.

So, Chapman bought the gift items through a television-shopping channel, sometimes shopping 12 to 18 hours a day.

Her Lodge Hill cottage now is overflowing with toys and games, socks, wallets and clothing. In the living room, dining room, bedroom and garage, there are animal toys that fold out into a blanket-pillow combinations, lunch pails that look like purses, flannel sheets, scented soaps in the shape of cupcakes, Christmas ornaments and more. Much more.

The gift blitz is an interim project for the 67-year-old former advertising-agency executive and television demographer for Columbia Pictures and MGM. She retired in 1983 and moved to Cambria three years later. With her companion Rugby (a sturdy 14-year-old shih tzu) at her side, Chapman has a book to write and a TV show to produce and sell.

But in the meantime, she wants to make hundreds of North Coast residents a little bit happier for the holidays. And she needs help to do it.

People can call her at 927-4007, or write to P.O. Box 1740, Cambria CA 93428, if they’re willing to wrap gifts, nominate a needy person or otherwise help make “The Day After” a happier one for hundreds of recipients.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at ktanner@thetribunenews .com. Read more “Slices” at