October 21, 2014
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Spirit of giving branches out at Avalon Nursing Home
Jennifer Rodrigues
Submitted photos by Giselle Mahoney
SURPRISE FROM SANTA: Resident Shirley Carney was shocked when she opened her gift from “Santa,” which included a CD player and a number of CDs. According to Giselle Mahoney, who organized the gift-giving project with her mother and sister, Carney told them it was everything she wanted and that they made her Christmas “very merry.”

Last week, the 30 residents at Conimicut’s Avalon Nursing Home were treated to a holiday surprise thanks to Giselle Mahoney, her sister Monique LaFrance and their mother Donna LaFrance.

The family was able to organize a giving tree for the holiday season and provided every resident with multiple gifts, including clothing, cosmetics and candy.

The sisters were inspired to do this project after a positive experience last year.

During Christmas 2012, Mahoney and her sister took part in a giving tree project for another nursing home.

“It was gratifying, but we wanted to do something more,” explained Mahoney.

After doing some brainstorming, the sisters decided to “adopt” Avalon Nursing Home, where their mom has worked for over 12 years and where they worked in the kitchen as high school students in 2002.

When the two approached Donna about organizing the giving tree, she asked how they would decide whom to give gifts to. They thought they would be able to give to those residents who didn’t have any family to receive gifts from.

“She said a little sadly, ‘that would be most all of them,’” recalled Mahoney. “And so we said, ‘then we’ll get gifts for everyone.’”

Donna worked together with Avalon’s activities director, Pat Kelly, to create wish lists for each resident. Most lists included T-shirts, pajama pants, nightgowns, slippers or blankets, along with other fun items such as nail polish, make-up, candy, movies or CDs.

“Monique and I really had no idea how we were going to get all of the wish lists filled,” said Mahoney.

The two planned to start by asking co-workers, friends and family to help out.

The two created paper trees with the lists on them, split up the pile and started by bringing the piles to their offices; Mahoney works at Tech Collective in Providence and Monique works at the Graduate School of Oceanography at University of Rhode Island.

Monique’s trees were all gone that first day and Mahoney’s were gone by the second.

“We didn’t even have a chance to ask our families,” said Mahoney. “That was really exciting for us, to see so much generosity and people as excited about doing this as we were.”

The sisters collected gifts through mid-December, and on Christmas Day, Mahoney and Donna handed out the gifts to the residents.

“We would bring the gift, tell the resident it was from Santa, and then help them open it. The residents were thrilled. They smiled and laughed. They asked, ‘How did Santa know this was my favorite color?’ or ‘How did Santa know I needed these?’” explained Mahoney.

She added that the reaction from some of the residents were the best. One woman said the nightgown she received from “Santa” was better than the one her daughter had given her.

“She was so sweet and sincere, you just had to laugh,” said Mahoney.

While the residents of Avalon were able to receive a special holiday surprise, Mahoney said she and her sister also gained something from organizing this project.  

“For Monique and I, being able to do this was the highlight of our Christmas. We can get caught up in the hustle and bustle, the expensive gifts, and the food and entertainment, but visiting the Avalon residents for just a few hours reminds us that Christmas is about love; it’s about giving joy and smiles – and it can be given with 10 minutes of your time and box of hot tamales,” said Mahoney.


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