A Good Age: Giving nursing home residents the gift of gift-giving

Sue Scheible

The residents of Wingate at Silver Lake were going Christmas shopping. In wheelchairs, on walkers, with canes. They didn’t even have to leave the nursing home – just get on the elevator and go down to the activity room. There were hundreds of gifts to choose from – for their families and themselves. And all for free.

“Be sure to pick something out for yourself, too,” Susan Nichols told each resident.

“This is wonderful,” said 69-year-old John Shea, coming away with two full shopping bags. Toy cars, building blocks, books for nieces and nephews. “Next year, I also want to help the other residents shop.”

The holiday spirit was in abundance last Wednesday at Wingate, as Nichols and her friend Carol Lockwood of Pembroke brought their volunteer program, Gift-Ability, to Wingate for the fourth year.

Nearly 150 residents got to pick out gifts, have them wrapped, labeled and delivered to their rooms. Over the next few weeks, as relatives and friends visit, they’ll have presents to give back.

Nichols, 52, used to go shopping for her father, Raymond Nichols, when he lived at Wingate. Each year, he would say, “I didn’t pick it out. It’s not the same if you don’t pick it out yourself. ” He had always been the family shopper.

“I saw how that bothered him and how badly other residents felt when visitors came in at the holidays and gave them things – and they didn’t have anything to give back,” Nichols says.

After her father died in 2005, Nichols told the nursing home director, “We would like to bring in a little store at Christmastime and set it up in the bingo room. The residents can come down and pick out gifts for others. The gifts will be free, and we will interview them beforehand to have a selection of things they might like.”

The program has grown each year since 2006. Six volunteers the first year are now 15 to 20; nearly all the residents take part. Mary Lovejoy was in the hospital last week, so Nichols saved a selection for her to choose from when she comes back.

Family member Barbara Velez of Plympton was so moved by the program last year that after her mother, a resident, died, Velez returned as a volunteer this year. “I saw what it did for the residents and said, ‘I just have to go back and help.’”

Nichols, her husband, Michael Needham, and Lockwood have held yard sales and a pizza party with line dancing to raise money for the gifts. They start shopping the sales Dec. 26 for the following year.

Nichols’ Christmas wish? “I am hoping someone will start something like this in another facility,” she said. “I would like to but just don’t have the time.”

For more information, go to www.gift-ability.org. READ MORE about Gift-Ability.

Reach Sue Scheible at sscheible@ledger.com, 617-786-7044, or The Patriot Ledger, Box 699159, Quincy 02269-9159. Read her Good Age blog on our website.