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Spreading holiday cheer to seniors


Whether we’re ready or not, the holidays are upon us once again; This means attending Christmas parties, shopping for loved ones, gathering with our families and celebrating in our churches. And while many of us may enjoy donating gifts and time to our favorite charities this time of year, there’s a population in our community that needs us more than we may think: Our senior citizens.

“For some seniors, the holidays are a very lonely time,” says Jamee Horning, executive director of Seniors First in Auburn, California. “They feel forgotten.” During the holiday season it’s easy for people to get wrapped up in their own plans and commitments, forgetting that the elder members of their families aren’t as mobile as they are, or as capable of taking active roles in holiday festivities. And as our elder family members get older, often they can feel isolated and alone if they are mourning losses or coming to terms with new challenges in their lives.

What can you do? The simple act of reaching out to listen can mean the world to senior citizens. Call your grandparents or great aunt or uncle, and let them know how important they are to you. Look outside your family too—many senior community programs are often in need of volunteers to “adopt” a senior citizen and visit with them. Or stop in and visit with the lady down the street whose family lives far away, say hello to the man who sits alone at church, or invite a neighbor to dine out with you and your family. And because one of the secrets to life is friendship, this could be a great way to make a new friend (or two!).

Festive Hugs

Another way to get involved during the holidays is to participate in a local gift drive. At Adventist Health, we’ve partnered with Seniors First, to host a program called Presents with Purpose where employees can select a senior citizen’s name from a Christmas tree and purchase gifts for them. They also have the opportunity to wrap the gift and deliver it—which can be a huge gift to the recipient. Jamee says that Seniors First has nearly 350 clients this year to deliver gifts to.

What kind of gifts do seniors ask for? Jamee says it’s a surprising variety of requests, ranging from Christmas cards, firewood, soft blankets and food. One of Jamee’s clients even jokingly asked for her hand in marriage (Jamee is happily married, but was flattered by the offer).

While it’s wonderful to spread joy to our seniors during the holidays, it’s important to show them love year-round. One of the ways Seniors First keeps this going is by doing anonymous “happy heart grams,” where people can sponsor a senior and Jamee’s team will deliver heart-shaped cookies and carnations with the senior’s meal program around Valentine’s Day. Throughout the year, there are multiple opportunities to donate physical goods as well as quality time , which is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

“Our seniors feel so blessed that someone simply thought about them,” says Jamee. “Truthfully—the gift doesn’t matter. It’s the act of giving that means so much—it’s so inspirational for them. It lights up their life.”

Want to find out more and learn how to get involved? Check out Seniors First on Facebook, and maybe even gain a senior pen-pal or two.