‘Elves for Elders’ bring holiday cheer to seniors

By Jessica Selby
Posted 12/3/15

Santa’s elves are so busy making toys for all the little boys and girls on the nice list that he had to recruit a team of elves to take care of the senior population in Rhode Island.

The team, …

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‘Elves for Elders’ bring holiday cheer to seniors


Santa’s elves are so busy making toys for all the little boys and girls on the nice list that he had to recruit a team of elves to take care of the senior population in Rhode Island.

The team, known as Elves for Elders, was created 10 years ago as a way to guarantee Christmas gifts for seniors in the state who might not otherwise receive a gift during the holidays.

“At this time of year everyone thinks about children, and while that is very important, so too are the seniors in our community,” said Maxine Hutchins, a member of Seniors RULE, the non-profit association that sponsors the event with All is Well Home Care, the company for which Hutchins works full time. “The program is geared to get a gift to a senior that would not otherwise get one.”

Hutchins started the program 10 years ago after she realized what a need existed.

“I was working in senior housing at a 200-resident site as a social worker and I decided that I was going to hand-make Christmas cards for every resident,” Hutchins said. “People told me I was crazy, but it was something I just wanted to do and I realized after I had, how something so simple can make such a difference.”

“One of the women at the facility came to me afterwards and thanked me and told me that that was the only Christmas card that she had received and I thought to myself, the only Christmas card, what about a gift?” Hutchins said. “This woman never had any children and most of her friends had already passed, so she really was all alone.”

Hutchins left the senior housing some time later and began working in home care, and there, she said, she saw it even more.

“It was never about money; these people were not looking for elaborate gifts,” she said. “It was more basic need items that they wanted. The majority of seniors are on a fixed income and they just don’t have the money to buy these very basic items.”

Ten years ago when Hutchins started the program, she was operating the event out of her home. In her first year, she said that she basically hand-delivered 300 gifts to seniors around the state. Today, however, the program has grown to include so many seniors that Hutchins has had recruit a team of others to help her with this holiday undertaking.

So far this year, Hutchins’ tallies show that she will bring holiday cheer to nearly 900 seniors that reside in 21 facilities across the state. She will not, however, attack this undertaking alone.

Seniors RULE is a non-profit association made up of women members who provide services for seniors. The members coordinate various programs throughout the year, and at this time of year, Hutchins said, the women focus their attention on the “holiday gift program,” better known as “Elves for Elders.”

In their 10th year, Hutchins said that she and the team pretty much have the program systematically laid out. The way it works, she explained, is that Seniors RULE members recruit local businesses and corporations to support and sponsor the program in various ways while other members are working to gather the list of eligible seniors.

“Most of the activities directors at the sites that we service know the residents and their family situations so in that case they provide us with a list. In other situations we are familiar with these seniors because it’s not the ones who come in for rehab because of an accident, it’s the long-term residents that have been there for years,” Hutchins said.

Once the list of seniors and their wish lists are complied, Hutchins places each senior and their wish onto a star ornament. The star ornaments are distributed to locations around the state. This year, Theatre 82 and Café and Mission Nutrition in Cranston, the Warwick Mall and Emerald Square Mall, as well as the Wrentham Outlets are all host sites for the program.

At Mission Nutrition, Mike Filipe, the owner of the nutrition club located on Gansett Avenue, has the stars strung like a garland behind the counter. He said that customers have been coming in and inquiring about the stars and that many have already been taken.

“We have had quite a few stars taken, and what I have found is that one person, for example, took a card where a woman asked for a blouse, so the customer came back with two just because she was moved to do that,” Filipe said. “These are not big requests and people, I think, feel that and want to give when they can.”

Other items on the wish lists, according to Hutchins, include magazines, word-search puzzles, baby dolls, holiday ornaments, blankets, paper, pens, stamps and envelopes, socks, slippers, toiletries and lotions.

“Just think about these requests; these people living in nursing homes, they might have access to tissues, but one of the women told me that the tissue was so rough that it hurt her nose so she wanted something softer like Puffs as a gift,” Hutchins said. “Others don’t have access to email, they still write letters and send mail, so they want stamps and paper. We also get a lot of requests for baby dolls because women with Alzheimer’s want to cuddle it like it were their own baby. These are not major requests, it’s just a major task to get all of the requests fulfilled and delivered in time.”

Other requests are fulfilled by businesses, like Alex and Ani and Logisticare, which manages the RIDE program in Rhode Island. These companies sponsor entire sites and large groups of seniors.

Once all of the gifts are brought back, they are collected by the elves, and this year they have planned to gather at Gentry Moving, one of the members of the Seniors RULE association, for a wrapping and distribution party right before Christmas. Hutchins said the members collect all of the donated items, making sure that they are properly assigned and then wrapped and delivered.

“Unfortunately it isn’t until this is all completed that I am able to cross-reference the wish lists with my master list to make sure that all of the resident’s wishes have been fulfilled,” Hutchins said. “It’s then that I learn who is left, and I use the money that has been donated to us to go out and fulfill the last of the requests. That is why it is so nice to get donations.”

Anyone who would like to make a donation may send checks payable to Seniors RULE to All is Well Home Care, 510 Post Road, Warwick 02888, care of Maxine Hutchins.

Anyone who would like to pick up a star to fulfill the wish of a senior in the program may stop by anyone of the participating locations mentioned above. Anyone with questions can call Hutchins at 401-286-3821.



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