More than Skin Deep

Volunteers with Brenda’s Beauty Angels help to overcome isolation

By Sara McAninch

Before her death in 2015, Brenda Barnette was an outgoing woman who loved to get her nails and hair done. When health issues and restrictions confined Barnette to her home, daughters Kathryn Woodward and Patricia (Patty) Long brought the salon experience to her.

“She was basically imprisoned at home. We were trying to bring arts and crafts in, nail polish and things to do,” says Woodward. “First and foremost, to help her forget about her illness.”

After Barnette’s passing, Woodward and Long channeled their grief into something positive. They got to work ensuring no other seniors or individuals confined due to serious illness or other issues felt isolated. In 2019, Brenda’s Beauty Angels officially launched as a nonprofit. By that time, they were “already servicing a lot of people,” says Woodward, through the gift of beauty bags and spa services to people who are homebound or living in long-term care facilities and their caregivers.

“My mom was a nurse and gave genuine care to others throughout her career,” Woodward says. “It’s an honor for us to be able to continue her work this way.”

More than makeup

In the beginning the sisters relied heavily on their networks, friends and families to get needed supplies and donations. The response was so great that they received enough items to last two years. “We’ve been able to do some really remarkable stuff with that. Some of it went into gift bags, and some of it we use,” says Woodward.

While the primary focus of the organization is beauty, it’s also about human connection and empathy.

“Beauty can come in all different forms,” says Olivia (Liv) Fritz, the organization’s vice president. “We’re there to provide whatever form we can with the time we have with them [our clients].”

What’s in the bag?

In addition to providing spa services, such as polishing nails and hand massages, staff, board members and volunteers ― who are called “angels” — assemble and hand out beauty bags.

So what does a beauty bag look like? According to Woodward, the bags themselves are sourced through bulk purchases the organization makes or offerings from various sources. “We usually purchase the two-handled gift bag type, but [we] have worked with everything imaginable.” Health and beauty subscription service makeup bags are one of the more unique donations. “It would be a blessing to be able to find a few suppliers that could sponsor a month or commit to X bags a year,” says Woodward.

These bags contain at least five small items, such as hand lotion, a comb, lip balm, perfume or cologne, and a crossword puzzle, for example. It’s something “small and tangible we can leave behind or drop off for someone who doesn’t want that one-on-one interaction,” says Fritz. In months when the organization receives more donations, they may up the number of items per bag to eight.

Contributions of handwritten cards and handmade gifts are welcomed as well. “We have children that we have make cards or drawings ― stuff like that,” says Long.

While many people think beauty only applies to women, Brenda’s Beauty Angels doesn’t discriminate in its services. For example, an elderly gentleman in a long-term care facility or living at home might get a nail treatment or a bag containing a manicure kit, cologne, pens, a brush and lotion. Because what is given to the organization’s client base depends on the contributions received that month from public donors and private sponsors, volunteer coordinator and board member Whitney Dickey considers a good month one where a lot of unisex items are donated.

No matter how much is received, the organization works hard to ensure the items get into the hands and homes of those in need.

“We try really hard to give away everything that comes in immediately,” Woodward says.

Each year, for the past two years, the organization has given away several thousand beauty bags. While it hopes to continue at this pace, it really depends on how many donations it receives on a monthly basis.

“Given the need, there’s never enough to go around, so we rotate or select facilities based on matching donation to need,” says Woodward. “There are times when donation levels drop, and we do small batches of bags — perhaps only 50 ― but that’s 50 bags of kindness that make an actual difference in the lives of those people receiving the gift.”

Angels Among Us

Being an angel (volunteer) is easy: All it takes is compassion, empathy and a listening ear. Skills like giving a hand massage or painting nails can be taught, says Fritz, but what’s most important is the  volunteers’ ability to be “the source of beauty in whatever form that comes out to be,” she says.

Angels can be male or female, people donating items or sending cards for caregivers and seniors, board members packing beauty bags during the monthly meeting, and family members of Woodward and Long stepping in to help where and when needed. According to Dickey, an angel is “anybody who believes in us and believes in [our] mission. We want somebody who has a passion for our cause.”

While angels are the primary people providing services, they also get something in return. “It’s so amazing the different stories that people have that they share with you and share with the volunteers while they’re there,” says Fritz. “It’s really a two-way street when it comes to the beauty and what the volunteers gain from it as well as the seniors or the individual we’re currently working with.”

Before and After

Brenda’s Beauty Angels’ tale has phases: before and after the pandemic started. Pre-COVID, one-on-one care via hands-on services at care facilities and individual residences were the norm. “Pre-COVID, you were literally holding someone’s hand,” says Woodward. Even though angels wore gloves during these sessions, there was still a personal contact and connection being made.

When pandemic restrictions went into place less than a year after the organization formalized, and most facilities went on lockdown, the angels, staff and board members had to pivot and be flexible with their operations.

“Pre-COVID, volunteers would go into facilities and do basic skin care, paint nails and brush hair,” says Fritz. “With COVID, a lot of that has changed what we can and can’t do.” Despite the need to adapt to the times, the organization still hasn’t changed its mission.

“The goal is the beauty standard, but also to be able to provide some connection and relief,” says Fritz.

Instead of hands-on services, the organization provides beauty bags when it’s allowed to, as well as trinkets to brighten the rooms of individuals locked down in care facilities. That includes things like room décor, air fresheners, mini-Christmas trees and wreaths. The intent is to provide “a change of scenery to have some freshness and newness into the room where they’ve been isolated for two years,” says Woodward.

It was because of the need to change its operations that Brenda’s Beauty Angels launched its #CareNotCovid campaign.

“Early on in the pandemic we were like, “What is our next step?” [The] first thing that was the simplest solution that came to mind was let’s make cards,” says Fritz. Because “anyone can write them,” she says, it sends a message that “we’re in this together.”

Caring campaign

   Pandemic restrictions at care facilities varied, but a lot of them had quarantine rules, meaning any items from the outside had to be held in a designated space for days or weeks before getting into the hands of residents. In-person visits were halted, directly impacting the organization’s primary services.

“We tried to do parades outside the windows [at care facilities], we tried to get tablets in, phone calls, the whole bit. One by one, facilities didn’t have the staff to keep those kinds of things supported,” says Woodward. “A lot of places couldn’t allow you to do the parades anymore because insurance couldn’t allow you to be on the property in that way.”

Members of the organization put their collective heads together and launched the #CareNotCovid campaign. The main goal was to get pictures, cards, letters and drawings into the hands of “seniors, seriously ill adults and children, and their caregivers,” according to the campaign’s website. As an extra precaution, any items sent to the Brenda’s Beauty Angels main address are held in quarantine for 72 hours before being dispersed. This way of still helping seniors and others in need despite pandemic restrictions speaks directly to the organization’s mission of “loving kindness, support and compassion through beauty.”

“It helps them to know that someone is thinking about them,” says Long, talking about individuals forced into isolation.

The campaign, which is ongoing, has netted participants from around the country. In fact, Woodward plans for it to be “indefinite.”


For more information about Brenda’s Beauty Angels, to become an angel, request services, donate or become a sponsor, go to To learn more about, and participate in, the #CareNotCovid campaign, visit