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Spending time a great gift for seniors

November 29, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

If you're looking for the perfect holiday gift for a senior citizen, Mary Jane Henson has a suggestion.

But you won't find it on a store shelf or in a catalog.

They don't need another knickknack or bauble, she said.

"What they need is the gift of time - time spent with family and friends."

As a volunteer at Potomac Towers in Hagerstown, Henson interacts with older residents on a daily basis, helping out with craft projects, coffee and conversation and meetings of the Red Hat Society.

"Some people have lived here for years," she said, "and have never stepped foot outside this building."

If you could grant them a Christmas wish, she said, it would be the chance to go places and do things, especially with those they love.

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Some residents have no relatives, Henson said, and an opportunity to get away from their apartments for just a few hours isn't a possibility.

"To be able to go shopping, go to lunch or just take a drive for a change of scenery would mean the world to them," she said.

During a recent morning at Potomac Towers, several residents reflected on their Christmas gift ideas.

"I would love the gift of time with my family," said Clarceena Martin, 53. "Just to be able to spend some time together, have a bite to eat and talk would be wonderful."

Martin said people have gotten away from family values, especially during the holidays.

"Christmas has become too commercialized," she said. "It's about nothing but the dollar."

Martin said she has a sister who does a great deal for her, "but sometimes she's busy and other means of transportation aren't always senior friendly."

Brenda Burnett, 61, said she, too, would love to see her family get together "and be a family."

"That would be the perfect Christmas gift," she said, "to have everyone's lives settled and just to have everybody together and happy."

Burnett said she has a 19-year-old grandson who visits often and takes her to church on Sundays.

"It's nice to get out," she said. "I wish I could do that more often. I don't like to just sit around. I like to keep my mind busy."

Gary E. Hay, 62, president of the Potomac Towers Tenant Association, agreed that most senior citizens don't need a lot of presents.

"If someone wants to do something for an older family member or friend, come to visit, take them to a movie, give them something to look forward to," he said.

Hay said many senior citizens are on a fixed income and rely on others to help them out.

"Find out what they really need," he said. "Do something to lift their spirits."

Argie Harris, 72, said she usually has what she needs at Christmas.

"The best gift is getting together with friends and family for dinner," she said. Gift cards to grocery stores and department stores are also nice, she said.

Beverly Oakes, who turned 74 on Nov. 27, doesn't live at Potomac Towers but comes for the activities.

"As a senior citizen, it's difficult to get around in a car," she said. "I'd like my family to take me someplace, maybe out to see the Christmas decorations."

Oakes said she likes the presents, too, "but being with family makes you really feel good."

At Homewood of Williamsport, Operation Santa assists holiday shoppers in finding the right gift for seniors.

Shannon Naylor, volunteer coordinator at Homewood, said residents will make a wish list and then church and community organizations, as well as individuals, provide gifts.

On Christmas Eve, Naylor said, the staff will put the gifts in the residents' rooms, letting them know "that Santa has been to Homewood."

Naylor said she's proud to be part of Operation Santa, which has become a tradition at Homewood.

"We have no problem getting people involved," she said. "It means a lot to know we have special friends who want to make Christmas special for our residents."

Naylor said she and other volunteers and staff members begin working on the project several months before Christmas.

"We base Operation Santa on what the residents really need," she said.

That list includes items such as soaps, lotions, tissues, perfume, slipper socks, sweaters and hairbrushes. If a person enjoys letter writing, there are suggestions of stamps and stationery. And if he or she is a music lover, consider CDs.

But not every gift has to be an object, Naylor said. Ideas include writing a poem about how much that person means to you; doing a photo album of family members or favorite things; offering to record family memories on tape; or making a donation to a charity in that person's name.

Naylor also suggested decorating their rooms for the various seasonal holidays, reading them a book or bringing in the family pet.

Gift certificates to Homewood's beauty shop or dining room are also suggested.

"You might want to just come in and spend some time with that person," Naylor said. "Go to an activity with them, sit and talk. That's a gift they would truly enjoy."

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