Bring joy to a senior this holiday season by participating in Elves for Elders with REAL Services. Find out how you can participate at REAL Services’ website.
Every holiday season, there are several toy drives that provide underprivileged children with presents, such as Toy for Tots or through your religious community.
Those projects are great, and no child should feel unloved during the holidays.
One group, on the other hand, is often left out: seniors.
“We have all these wonderful programs for kids,” said Allen Holt, the Community Outreach Manager at Real Services, Inc. “But a lot of times our seniors are the ones that are forgotten at Christmas time.”
He says that he’s seen many older adults are homebound and rarely come in contact with other people, which can be particularly hard on them during the holidays.
According to a 2017 study from AARP, 31 percent of people surveyed felt lonely at some point during the holidays over the past five years. Additionally, isolation in adults 52 years or older can lead to a higher risk of mortality, which is alarming considering 28 percent of people over the age of 65 lived alone according to the 2010 census.
The National Council on Aging recommends that seniors in these conditions make an effort to keep in touch with loved ones, even over the phone and try to find social activities to do but unfortunately, that’s not always an option for them.
A large percentage of seniors are unable to drive by the age of 80, which means family and friends need to come to them or pick them up. If they don’t, seniors often end up alone during holiday festivities.
Like children, older adults also enjoy receiving presents, even if the items they receive meet a need, as opposed to a toy or a new TV.
That’s why Holt and Real Services puts on a program every year called Elves for Elders, which delivers practical gifts to seniors during the holiday season. The nonprofit serves LaPorte, Marshall, Kosciusko, Elkhart, and St. Joseph counties.
“Elves for Elders is a community program that helps the elderly who wouldn’t have Christmas otherwise,” Holt said. “So these are people that we’ve selected that either don’t have family or have little family support.”
The program serves between 600 and 1,000 older adults every year and provides them with practical, community-donated gifts. The need is so great that they can’t handle Elves for Elders on their own, so Holt seeks out volunteers to help buy, donate and deliver gifts every year.
“What we do is we contact all of the elders and we take down what their needs are,” Holt said. “Then, at that point, I process them into some huge databases that I run and then I adopt them out to the community.”
Typically these are slippers, other clothing items, toiletries, puzzles, cleaning supplies and more. A purchaser usually spends between $25 and $50.
Gifts are then delivered by a volunteer or possibly the gift purchaser directly to the older adult’s home, which also provides them an opportunity for human interaction.
“Not only are they getting gifts, but they’re getting a visitor as well,” Holt said. “They’re getting some human conversation and some human touch. I had one lady tell me that other than seeing the volunteers come at Christmas, she hasn’t talked to anybody. She’s had no other conversations with anyone. It has a pretty huge impact on them.”
Anyone looking to volunteer or purchase a gift for the Elves for Elders program needs to fill out an application form. All gift assignments will be given out before Thanksgiving so that shoppers can take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials.