Maxine Hutchins and her fellow volunteers from Seniors Resources Unlimited – Liaisons for Elders (Seniors RULE) hope to spread holiday cheer to over 700 elderly living in 13 facilities throughout the state through the fourth annual “Elves for Elders.”
“Elves for Elders” collects names and gift requests from nursing homes, senior housing and adult day care facilities throughout the state. Names and gift requests are then hung on trees as ornaments at four locations. People can simply take an ornament, purchase a gift and return both to the location before Dec. 10.
Trees can be found at the customer service desk of the Warwick Mall, the customer service desk at Emerald Square Mall in North Attleboro, Mass., Mission Nutrition in Cranston and Clements Marketplace in Portsmouth.
Hutchins and her “elves” will take care of the rest.
Maxine Hutchins is the brains behind “Elves for Elders,” a project she has done with her company, All Is Well Home Care, for the past four years but started seven years ago as her own holiday project.
Hutchins was working as a social worker for two senior housing facilities when she decided to make a holiday card for each of the 200 residents.
“I thought ‘no one ever does anything for the elderly,” said Hutchins.
After that Christmas, Hutchins was approached by one of her residents, who told her that was the only Christmas card she received that year.
“People forget that some people have no family or have dysfunctional families and don’t get anything for the holidays,” said Hutchins.
So she decided to work with these elderly care facilities to take small gift requests and collect donations. The project has grown from 300 requests her first year to over 700 this year.
Hutchins remembers traveling between seven locations to pick up all of the gifts and bring them to her home to wrap and distribute all on her own the first year she did the project. Now she says things are much more streamlined.
“I can enlist other ‘elves,’” said Hutchins. “It makes it easier.”
Volunteers from the four chapters of Seniors RULE, an all-female association of women who work in senior care, will go to the different locations, host wrapping parties and distribute the gifts to the facilities, usually during the facilities’ holiday parties. The four chapters are located throughout the state and will take responsibility for facilities in their area.
A wrapping party will be held in Warwick on Dec. 18 at All Is Well Home Care (510 Post Road) from 3 to 6 p.m.
Requests are coming from 13 facilities located in the communities of Providence, Pawtucket, Warwick, Bristol, Middletown, Smithfield, East Greenwich, Johnston and Cumberland.
“Some will give me 10 requests, some will give me the whole building,” explained Hutchins.
Most gifts are small items, including baby dolls for Alzheimer’s patients, slippers, books, crossword puzzles, or art supplies. Other requests are as simple as gumdrops or a candy cane.
Once in a while, a request for a larger item such as a recliner or a flat screen TV. Hutchins even tries to fill those, going to larger stores such as Cardi’s to request for the donation of a gift card.
“I’ve tried to be creative,” said Hutchins.
She has also been able to get area businesses involved with the project. Cranston-based Alex and Ani could not put a tree up in their location, but their employees took one of Hutchins’ facilities as their own cause; they plan to collect all of the requested gifts from that location and donate it to the project.
Hutchins also pointed out that none of the requests come from clients of All Is Well Home Care, where she and other volunteers work.
“We would do that on our own,” she said.
In order to fill requests, Hutchins’ mission is to make sure people know about the project and where they can collect donations.
“The biggest thing is trying to make people aware the project is there,” said Hutchins, explaining that employees at the location where the trees are make sure the ornaments are always available for people who wish to donate. “People are very generous, even in this hard time.”
She added that if there are leftover requests, she and her volunteers will often try to fill them on their own. Hutchins predicts with the shorter holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, things will be even tighter when it comes to collecting; even though the trees have been out since the beginning of November, Hutchins says most gifts are turned in after Thanksgiving.
Down the line, Hutchins hopes to grow this project even more. “Someday, I want to grow this program to 1,000 requests,” said Hutchins, adding that she needs to make sure the desire to donate to the cause is there. “I don’t want to grow the program and not be able to fill them.”
An “Elves for Elders” tree is located at the customer service desk near JCPenny in the Warwick Mall; for more information or to volunteer, call Hutchins at All Is Well Home Care at 286-3821.