Brevard seniors grateful for gifts
By Cindy Flachmeier
For FLORIDA TODAY
A recent FLORIDA TODAY headline read, “A small gift can make a big difference.”
From personal experience, I know that’s an understatement.
For the past two Christmas seasons, I have seen the deep personal impact that small gifts made on lonely seniors in Brevard. The gifts were purchased with generous contributions from people like you to the Reaching Out Holiday Fund. Through a partnership between FLORIDA TODAY and Aging Matters of Brevard, your donations were used to buy handpicked gifts that the recipients had on their wish list.
These seniors are your nextdoor neighbor, your elementary school teacher, or maybe the man next to you at church. They are parents, grandparents and great-grands. The commonality is that many seniors are alone, isolated due to poor health and have outlived many or all of their friends and family. Who better to touch with a loving gift?
My involvement in senior gifting began in 2011 with a phone call from a FLORIDA TODAY editor, inquiring about whether Aging Matters in Brevard would be interested in partnering with the newspaper for the Reaching Out project if it were expanded to include seniors as well as thousands of children.
With a quick “Yes, we are interested,” and after a year of planning, the 2013 distribution of nearly 2,000 gifts went off without a hitch. Gifts were distributed from Mims to Micco to seniors at home and at play. This second year, we upped the ante to 2,200 gifts.
The gifts have been distributed for the past few weeks to individual homes, at the Sunflower House and at 11 Seniors at Lunch sites throughout the county.
At the Martin Andersen Senior Center in Rockledge, this past week, a group of seniors attended a Seniors at Lunch program to enjoy good food, visit with friends and celebrate at the annual holiday party.
I had the privilege of attending the party and watching 25 seniors eat a delicious meal and impatiently wait for everyone to finish eating so they could open their gifts. As their gifts were distributed, I quickly found out that seniors shake boxes, pull off wrapping paper, toss out bows and open their gifts with the gusto of their youth. They opened boxes and gift bags hiding slippers, cuddly throws, stamps, pajamas and darling Christmas stockings with gifts inside. The mood was festive and everyone loved their gifts.
I find the most heartwarming aspect of this project is receiving thank-you notes after the gift delivery. I want to share these notes and stories so you can meet the folks benefiting from your donations.
“Thank you so much for my wonderful Christmas gifts, the pink sweat shirt is so great. Just what I wanted. So warm and soft. The hand lotion is so much appreciated and needed. Thank you.”
A 90-year-old husband and his 85-year-old wife who receive Meals on Wheels both completed Reaching Out wish lists. Unbeknownst to each other, instead of asking for a gift for themselves, they each had the perfect gift for the other.
Often a request is made for a small gift for their pet: “The ‘kids’ loved their treats — another unexpected surprise to have the ‘kids’ get gifts since they are my family! The holidays are more pleasant when you are remembered. Thank you.” This note was accompanied with a photo of the “kids,” two cute Pomeranians.
“Before things went from bad to worse in these past couple years, I was the one always willing to help wherever and whenever I could. There was no better joy in my life, than to give of myself. To do for those who could not go it alone. This is the first time in my life that I’ve been on the other end of the stick. I am so grateful for the gifts you gave me. For you and your families, I wish you all the best in the coming New Year.”
“Thank you for the beautiful robe, it will keep me warm in the cold months to come. Your gift was such a surprise, the first Christmas gift I have received in 20 years. Thank you for remembering me.”
I always feel a twinge of sadness and happiness when I read these notes. They remind me of how precious our lives are and how we must remember to care for one another.
As we put away our holiday wrappings, I would be remiss if I neglected to say thank you to the people who made this project possible.
To our volunteer project leaders, a giant hug and thank you to Kim Rodriguez and Merrell Shye. I want to give a special thank you to the elves from McGladrey, FLORIDA TODAY and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program for hours of gift wrapping.
Thank you to the Aging Matters staff who coordinated home deliveries. And there would have been no deliveries without our tireless 600-plus volunteers, whose only complaint was that we did not give them enough work.
No matter what age we are, there is always magic in the air during the holiday season. Thank you to each and every one who played a part in this holiday magic.
Thank you, FLORIDA TODAY, for caring about our precious children and older adults. Thank you to the Brevard community who have generously donated to the Reaching Out Holiday Fund. And for those of you who want to donate, there is still time!
Volunteers and FLORIDA TODAY employees wrap packages for seniors at the Aging Matters in Brevard offices in Cocoa.
CRAIG BAILEY/FLORIDA TODAY