Twin Cities nonprofit brings gifts to lonely seniors

When it comes to charitable giving, Minnesota is always ranked among the highest in the country, and we see it even more during the holidays. But despite our best efforts, thousands of people still fall through the cracks.

68-year-old Greg lives in a modest apartment in St. Paul where most days he is a one man show. No family. No close friends. On holidays he sees a few neighbors, but the distraction is short lived.

"You know, sometimes I go downstairs for the dinners, and I stay downstairs for a while and then I come upstairs [to] lonesome-ville. I call it lonesome-ville,” Greg says of his apartment.

Chris Langer is a health and human services worker who's spent time with isolated seniors for more than 20 years. 

"So they're pretty much alone in the world and as they age their world gets even smaller,” Langer said.
"Loneliness can lead to all kinds of other kinds of health issues that can be avoided by just keeping in contact with the people around you."

And because holidays can magnify the loneliness, every December, Chris goes one step further by connecting her clients with a local nonprofit called Gifts for Seniors, which collects and distributes donations of new and unwrapped gifts, everything from pajamas to puzzles.

"Before you know it, the afternoon is gone and you aren't focusing on the fact that you've been alone all day because you've been busy working on your puzzle,” Chris said.

Because the volunteer shoppers are like Chris and they already know the seniors who need help, it's a more personal experience.

“There's a client that we have who lives in public housing who I know loves the color red,” Chris said, holding up a pair of red socks. “So, to me, this is perfect and I also know socks -- the real practical things are important too."

The gifts for seniors program has been around for more than 30 years. It was first run by the county, but recently it became a nonprofit. Last year, the group served more than 3,000 seniors.

Brenda Abraham is a teacher at Fridley Middle School, and she heard about Gifts for Seniors at church.

“I thought about all the seniors that are forgotten over the holidays, and it really spoke to me,” Abraham said.

It clicked with her homeroom class, too, where they started a coin drive to raise money and awareness.

“We try and collect money so we can get something for seniors for the holidays because we know sometimes people don't take the time to give them something or have someone to talk to,” one of her students said.

"Not all the kids have a whole lot of money, but what they have they're willing to give so generously. And they all have time and energy,” Abraham said.

With the help and energy of people like the students at Fridley Middle School, Gifts for Seniors is hoping to serve 4,500 seniors this year

Chris recently made her first delivery of the season. Greg, her longtime client, wasn't expecting any gifts this year and he definitely wasn’t expecting something so personal.

He was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning – grateful for every little thing. A meaningful holiday connection from a few simple presents made even more special by the presence of a friend.

For more information visit Gifts for Seniors website.