“It’s Beginning to Feel Like Christmas”
by Maureen Kellen-Taylor, EngAGE C.O.O.
It’s funny how one small question can start a chain reaction. In this case it was from a gym staff member, Diane, at the South Pasadena Curves. My gym has collected gifts for EngAGE seniors for the past four Christmases.
“Can you use a fake-tree with lights?” “Oh, yes please!”
Next day at our Programs Team meeting, I repeated, “Can anyone use a fake-tree with lights?”
Nate jumped in and said yes first. He oversees our only site with families and seniors. “It would great for the kids!” A few minutes later he mused wistfully, visualizing their faces,“It would be great if we could put toys under the tree for them….”
Immediately Megan said, “We’ll do a toy drive at Burbank!” followed quickly by Sidni, “…and at the Piedmont!” while Elizabeth thought she would let her theatre company members at The Road know. Nancy reminded us that the site was also in need of extra food and she would bring some. The others all agreed that food would be important to add, too. The meeting hummed with excitement as all the team members threw in ideas and suggestions for how to make the first Christmas at Vermont Apartments a merry one.
True to her word, Elizabeth talked to The Road and amassed a small mountain of toys and $300.00 for gift cards so the teenagers would not be left out. Toys and food rolled into the office from many different directions. At the next meeting, Team Members came loaded with bags of gifts and rolls of festive wrapping paper for the children. The gifts from the Curves gym for 70 seniors at another building had also arrived and the office was transformed into a Christmas workshop.
That meeting was spent turning plastic shopping bags and boxes into brightly wrapped packages. We ran out of table space. Elizabeth sat on the floor surrounded by mounds of wrapped toys; her fellow team members knelt to cut bright squares of wrapping paper and others sorted the gifts into boxes labeled “Seniors – men,” Seniors- women,” ”babies,” “girls 3-5,” “boys….,” and so on.
Several things became apparent – that the business agenda for the meeting didn’t have a chance of being discussed amidst that merriment, that we needed more time to wrap for the 62 children, and that we didn’t have enough gift-bags for the 70 seniors.
The Programs Team, already busy with the events at 22 sites generously made dates to continue the wrapping. We debated how we could find gift bags that wouldn’t cost very much.
Later that week, the Christmas tree went up in the Vermont lobby and was decorated by three generations of residents and Toni and Dolly of EngAGE. The little children were enchanted by the lights and decorations. All who passed the tree and the happy tree trimmers were affected, their faces beaming and wishing good cheer.
A few days later, Randall, our artist in residence, presented the seven children who wait for art class every week with shiny new artists sets. They clutched their smart aluminum cases to their little bodies and refused to put them down – even to work with the clay in the class.
Meanwhile back at the office, Patricia, the owner of the Curves Gym, handed over 50 gift cards for the seniors and each one had Merry Christmas written on it with a gym-member’s name. She included everyone who gave.
Two days later we had a call from Robin, who had located a business closing down and had 80 gift bags to donate. Robin drove them up from Long Beach. It was feeling like Christmas.
On the 19th there was an afternoon Christmas party for the seniors at Buckingham. Yolanda, the manager, brought dinner and wrapped prizes for the raffle. As the seniors entered the room, each was presented with a festive bag of gifts. Everyone was in great good spirits and laughed and cheered when people got up to sing. A gentleman, who once said he had never won anything until he got a medal at the Senior Olympics, won a raffle prize and as he unwrapped it and laid it with his other gifts, I commented, “You are on a winning streak!” He answered, “…and I am humbly grateful!”
Later that day the party at Vermont got off to a slow start, until some of the young mothers arrived bearing platters of Dirty Rice, Collard Greens, Potatoes and Green Beans to add to the ham and turkey waiting.
The little children following them into the room gazed with wonder at the Christmas tree made with lights by Lionel and the huge mound of presents under it stacked by 10 year old volunteer Sara. Her mother and brother, all volunteers, carved the turkey and ham and passed it out. The families ate and chatted, the steel band played “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer,” and Nate handed out the presents.
As the EngAGE team and volunteers stood by, we remembered the day when that simple question, “Can you use a fake tree with lights?” was asked, and Nate’s answer, and his wish to have presents for the kids under it. We thought of how far it had rippled out and all the people touched by it.
Now that feels like Christmas…..