By: Brookings Health System
The December activity calendar for The Neighborhoods at Brookview is filled with Bible studies and worship services at the Chapel, music time in the Great Room, and of course, Friday afternoon bingo.
But there are two magical days this December that nursing home residents and staff alike look forward to: Dec. 5 and 6, the days of the Resident Christmas Store.
On those two days, the nursing home’s Great Room will transform into a holiday shopping experience that embodies the maxim, “Tis better to give than to receive.” That’s because the Resident Christmas Store provides donated items residents may choose from free-of-cost to give as presents to their loved ones.
“People don’t forget it. It’s meaningful what we’re trying to do,” said Activities Coordinator Amanda Uecker. She and Activities Assistant Jessie Kuechenmeister lead organizing the annual event. Staff, volunteers, resident families and community members all come together to create an experience for the residents that expresses the true meaning of the season.
Helping residents give
The Resident Christmas Store started seven years ago because the team noticed how anxious some residents became about holiday gift giving. Many residents had too limited of an income to buy presents for their loved ones or were unable to travel to stores. The activities team’s solution: bring free holiday shopping to the residents.
“I think it was just simply knowing that some residents don’t have any money or if they do, it’s $60 for an entire month, and what can $60 buy?” said Uecker about why The Neighborhoods started the program. “This way, residents can celebrate Christmas without worrying about money. They can get someone a gift without worrying about how to get to a store.”
The first year started small. Nursing home team members and other staff from Brookings Health System gave gently used or new items. Residents were allowed to shop and pick one item they could give to a loved one. The event has grown so now residents are guaranteed to shop for at least two gifts the first day. The second day, those residents who have more than two people they want to give to are allowed to go back and make additional gift selections.
“It’s grown in to a bigger thing than we thought it ever would be. We collect stuff all year long,” said Uecker. “The Monday and Tuesday before the store opens, we shut down the Great Room, where we have our large group activities, and go through every single piece and make sure it’s suitable. We also organize everything by size and category. When we set it out on the tables, we want it to seem like the residents are shopping in a department store and not going through a bunch of random stuff.”
The department store feel is finished off with festive decorations, holiday music, hot cocoa, team members wearing Santa hats, and a gift-wrapping station.
“It gets everyone in the Christmas spirit,” said Uecker.
Variety is key
Because each resident has unique gift needs, The Neighborhoods always looks for an assortment of items to stock the store.
Some of the most in-demand presents include knick-knacks; men’s gifts, such as wallets, gloves, cologne and tools; and items for school-aged children like board games, coloring books, Legos and other toys. There’s also an ongoing need for gift-wrapping supplies, including paper, gift bags and ribbons, to make residents’ holiday shopping experience complete.
Nursing home resident Emily Kreitlow has enjoyed shopping at the Resident Christmas Store for the past five years and appreciates being able to look through the goods. She usually searches for items for her great-grandchildren. This year she’s excited to pick out something for her newest great-granddaughter.
“I’d have to go out and shop, and I can’t really do that,” Kreitlow said. “So the store is an advantage for me or anybody who is wheelchair bound. “
“I got a real beautiful sweater one time,” nursing home resident Barb Eggeberg said. She’s shopped at the store for the past seven years. “I just loved it. We had another resident in here, and she loved the sweater, too, so I gave it to her.”
Last year Eggeberg was delighted to pick out a large tin filled with three kinds of popcorn. She says anything is welcomed for the store, but noted a drawback is the limited availability of certain items. “It’s first-come, first-serve.”
“We never really have too much stuff,” said Uecker. “It would be fun to have it open on Wednesday, and then on Thursday have a whole new array of items.”
Once the residents have all completed their shopping, The Neighborhoods gives remaining store items to other organizations that can put them to good use.
A true group activity
Pulling together the two largest shopping days of the year for residents requires a great deal of teamwork. Staff from across The Neighborhoods as well as volunteers and family members pitch in by either helping to set up the store, decorating the facility, shopping with residents or running wrapped presents back to residents’ rooms.
“We have really good staff and family members,” Uecker said. “Family members will bring in items they know that their loved one might like to shop for which everybody can pick from. It’s a collaborative, facility-wide, family-wide event.”
For the past several years, Advanced Asset Alliance of Sioux Falls, a business partner that works with the health system, has manned the gift-wrapping station and donated items to the store. Uecker says The Neighborhoods welcomes donations from anyone in the community and prefers items be dropped off no later than Dec. 4.
In addition, The Neighborhoods can always use extra volunteers to help residents shop or to run gifts. Service groups or individuals who are interested in helping with the store may reach out to Uecker at 696-8716 or firstname.lastname@example.org. They may also contact Activities Assistant Jessie Kuechenmeister at 696-8753 or email@example.com.
Uecker also notes the Resident Christmas Store’s magic isn’t generated by the collected gifts. Instead, the store helps spread happiness to people by giving first to the residents so they can participate in the holidays and in-turn give to others.
“The reason we do this is for the residents. That’s who we’re all here for.”