Christmas can be a lonely time for senior citizens even without the isolation brought on by COVID-19.
As many local retirees prepare for their first holiday season stuck at home, Wilson County’s senior programs and assisted living facilities are working to make sure they have something to celebrate.
“Our seniors have been very resilient,” Debbie Pare, the director of the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office’s Senior Citizens Awareness Network, said. “A lot of them are well into their 80s, and some are in their 90s, so they’ve weathered difficult seasons over the years. But seniors, especially if they’re isolated, the holidays are difficult.”
SCAN has been reaching out to those people through a network of volunteers since before the pandemic began and serves approximately 135 people. They normally provide gift boxes for seniors at Christmas, but Sgt. Don Witherspoon said that program was revamped this year.
“Instead of doing the Christmas boxes, we decided to do gift cards,” he said. “We mail that to them, and it’s like a Mastercard or VISA they can use as they wish, whether that’s for food, clothing or medication.”
Pare said most of the recipients are using their gift cards for essentials, but they also had an opportunity to send out Christmas lists through Home Instead Senior Care’s 12th annual Be a Santa to a Senior.
“Because of COVID it looks extremely different this year,” Home Instead owner Maggie Lea said. “We normally get everyone together and have a wrapping party, and we help distribute thousands of gifts across Wilson, Smith and DeKalb counties.”
Home Instead works with senior assistance programs like SCAN to gather wish lists, and distributes them to local businesses so people can order the gifts. This year’s presents are being purchased through hyperlinks to Amazon to avoid close contact.
“I was very nervous that people would shy away from it because of COVID,” Lea said. “But we had almost 100% participation and had several new businesses come on board to make sure seniors have Christmas.”
Seniors have been receiving both the gift cards from SCAN and the presents from Home Instead since early this month, and packages will continue being shipped out through Christmas.
“I’m hearing from seniors that they are loving getting the gifts,” Lea said. “Some of them don’t get anything all year, so they love getting to see the Amazon driver come up to the doorstep.”
Those interested in getting involved with the program can call Home Instead at 615-270-1860, since there are still gifts waiting for purchase.
Local assisted living facilities are also doing their part to help residents celebrate Christmas.
“We are encouraging residents to stay at Hearthside during the holidays to avoid exposure,” Hearthside Senior Living Executive Director Sean Dozier said in an email. “We are planning special meals and activities for our residents to enjoy. Our Activities Manager Betty Kelley does an outstanding job keeping our residents entertained and safe during these challenging times.”
The Pavilion Senior Living Activities Director Staci Rose also has a slate of Christmas activities planned for the residents, from ugly sweater contests and stockings to trips to the Dancing Lights of Christmas.
“Every year we also call the local veterans’ associations and they always do something,” Rose said. “This year they’re doing hats for the different branches … we usually do a party, but this year we’ve been doing communal dining with the tables 6 feet apart. This year we’re going to have our kitchen staff make some small finger food.”
If the facility isn’t able to host a party this year, they plan to deliver presents door to door and arrange for the residents’ family members to send theirs on Christmas Day.
“Our community is just so giving,” Lea said. “I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m always impressed.”