You might consider Lona Lee Balduf a one-woman Hallmark store—and a whole lot more. Like Hallmark, she cares enough to send the very best—in her case, handmade greeting cards to cheer the sick and older adults.

Unlike Hallmark, she does not make a cent.

“I believe God touched my shoulder and said this is a wonderful thing you can do for people,” Balduf said. “I hear how much they enjoy it. … How could I stop?”

In 2013, Balduf, now 79, started a greeting card ministry out of her home. Several members of her church, St. Paul Lutheran in Temperance, Mich., had become ill and were hospitalized while others were being moved to a care facility. Balduf surmised they needed a little cheering up.

In the beginning, she created and sent out 24 cards.

“Pretty soon this person or that person would tell me about someone they knew who was having a difficult time,” she said. “Plus, most of our congregation is over 50, so I decided to add them to my list.”

And if she saw someone at the doctor’s office—or anywhere for that matter—who seemed distressed, she asked for their address and added them to her list. The number of recipients quickly approached 100. Then she started adding family and friends who were beginning to age, along with her former high school classmates.

Before Balduf knew it, 225 people were on her list to receive a greeting card each month.

All expenses were coming out of her pocket. Her husband, Raymond, questioned whether they could continue paying for the materials, which include a printer, printer ink, and the equipment needed to create parts of the card and assemble it.

“Then a thank-you letter would come in with a financial contribution or stamps, just thanking me for sending them the card and bringing smiles to their faces,” Balduf said.

“I hear how much they enjoy it. … How could I stop?”

Her ministry not only continued but mushroomed.

Today, Balduf and her helpers make 300 new cards a month. Combined with those that are returned to her to be “recycled,” her ministry reaches 400 households (and rising) each month. Some are mailed, some are handed out—all at a cost of $497 per month. In addition to donations, she receives Thrivent action dollars to help cover the costs of this ministry.

Balduf now has four helpers. Every month her sister, Debbie Schneider, affixes the stamps, return addresses and address labels on all the envelopes. Balduf also gives materials for the cards to friends from church, Linda Taylor and her husband Rick, for assembling. Linda Meinhart is a new recruit who began assembling cards in June.

Most everyone works on the card ministry at home while watching TV and when they have spare time. “We are mostly, at this stage of our life, not wanting to go to another meeting for something or other,” Balduf said. “My house is definitely a happy place of clutter. I really can’t speak for the others, but I’m crafty not neat!”

Balduf begins her day at 6 a.m.

“There is definitely a cup of coffee involved, but no treats are available until my husband gets up,” she said.

Balduf works on the cards until 11 a.m., drawing ideas, information and inspiration from “any place” she sees something that will lift a person’s spirits.

She also produces and distributes a monthly two-sheet, four-page newsletter filled with jokes, poems and uplifting thoughts.

In an effort to save and protect the environment, Balduf recycles and uses scraps from all the “gifts” that come in envelopes from charities requesting donations (stamps, note pads, return labels), especially those items that bear pictures of America.

“I do try to create cards that can use what supplies I have around here to save money and the environment,” she said. “I did tell you we recycle the cards that the recipients return so I can pass them out at nursing homes, didn’t I?”

Balduf is not only trying to save the environment but also a post office, so she doesn’t mail her cards in Temperance. “I came from a little, and I mean little, town in Bedford Township,” Balduf said. “They still have an old-fashioned post office. So each month I send the cards out over there—4 miles away, not far—to add to the number of mail pieces going out, hoping they can keep their little post office.”

“The best part is, after over 10 years, she still loves what she’s doing,”

When Lisa Hayes arrived as interim pastor of St. Paul a year ago, she was incredulous at the work Balduf does. “I’ve had congregations that have sent out cards before,” she said. “They always bought leftover grab bag sets from card companies and then set them out for the congregation to sign. I have seen a few crafters make handmade cards and send them out. But they just don’t compare with what Lona and her team are doing. These are really nice cards! I’m just an awe.”

Hayes believes the larger church needs to hear how this former teacher is serving her Lord in her retirement. “And the best part is, after over 10 years, she still loves what she’s doing,” she added. “Lona is hopeful that a few people might be inspired to do the same thing in their own congregation and might reach out and contact her for assistance on how to get started when they see [this] article.”

But the bottom line for Hayes is that Balduf and her ministry are simply amazing: “Lona lives out her faith and her love for her Lord by doing exactly as Jesus commanded us to do: She visits the sick and homebound with compassion and love through her handmade cards and her personalized newsletter. And she does so with great joy.”

Cindy Uken
Cindy Uken is a veteran, award-winning reporter based in Palm Springs, Calif. She has worked at USA Today, as well as newspapers in South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and California.

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