The Box Docs

Terry Lessieur

Contrary to an often-heard popular catch phrase, Ocala Decorative Artists members prefer to think inside the box.


More specifically, their focus is on what’s going to go inside the keepsake boxes they create for two special national projects. As the local chapter of the national Society of Decorative Painters, the ODA partici-pates in the Memory Box and Treasure Box programs. Memory Boxes are presented to parents who have recently lost a newborn infant; Treasure Boxes are given to children who are patients at Shriners hospitals.


“Our members put a lot of thought into the boxes,” says Margaret Frederick, who currently serves as ODA president. “They keep in mind what the boxes are for and take the time to create something special.”


The ODA has been involved in the Memory Box program for five years, creating and shipping 100 boxes last year. The boxes, which are bought wholesale, are usually heart-shaped. The paper-machete, 5-by-10-inch boxes are often painted with angels or maybe a fairy princess.


The national organization calls the ODA when they need Memory Boxes shipped across the country. The ODA also gets requests for the boxes from Shands in Gainesville.


“The parents will put a lock of hair, the birth certificate, the hospital wrist bracelet or gown in the boxes,” says Margaret, who is a certified teacher in pen and ink, as well as one-stroke painting. “Many of the babies are cremated and sometimes their ashes are put in the boxes — we all think of this when we are paint-ing these boxes. It definitely has an impact on you.”


For that latter reason, members will usually only do so many of the Memory Boxes before switching to another project. But despite the emotional toll it takes on the members, the project is also very gratifying.


“In one way, it makes you sad to think of what the boxes are for,” says Margaret. “But we do get thank-you notes from some parents and that makes you feel better knowing that you helped someone during a very difficult time.”


While the Memory Box program has been a longtime project for ODA, the Treasure Box is a relatively new one. Margaret was attending the 2006 Society of Decorative Painters convention in Nashville when she first heard of the project and thought it would be another one for ODA to adopt. Judy Sauls, who serves as ODA second vice president, is the group’s chairperson for the Treasure Box program.


“We thought it would fit right in with our other good causes projects that we do,” explains Judy. “But with this one, it was up to us to collect cigar boxes to use for the Treasure Boxes. I wrote a letter that was published in Nancy Sharmach’s Star-Banner column [“Bulletin Board”] and by the end of the day, we had 100 boxes.”


The cigar boxes come in a surprising variety of shapes and sizes. The only requirement is that they fit in a hospital night-stand drawer. Given to children up to age 17 who are patients at Shriners hospitals, the ODA members have more creative leeway with the Treasure Boxes. While pink and blue are the common colors, the themes run the gamut from flowers to sports to puppies and kittens to race cars.


“The children can keep whatever they want in them. Things like playing cards, pictures of their family or pets,” says Judy. “It’s their own little treasure box while they’re in the hospital; then they can take them home.”


There is such a demand for the boxes that the small, 24-member ODA enlisted the help of the Crystal River-based Manatee Haven Decorative Artists to meet its initial deadline. In mid-May, Margaret and Judy made the first delivery of Treasure Boxes to the Shriners Hospital in Tampa.


“We plan to keep on doing the boxes, both the Memory and Treasure ones, as long as there’s a need,” says Margaret. “It’s our way of giving back through our art.”


Want To Help?
For more information on the Ocala Decorative Artists, the Memory and Treasure boxes projects, or to donate cigar boxes, please contact:


Margaret Frederick
(352) 854-5158
[email protected]


Judy Sauls
(352) 732-6473
[email protected]

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