Mary Kathryn King couldn’t forget what she saw during a visit to a senior living facility two years ago around Christmas time.
She was dropping off a delivery to one of her customers, when a resident walked down the hallway crying, said King, an executive salesperson with an international cosmetics company.
“My customer said she was crying because she was so lonely,” King said.
“She said this time of year was so hard because many of them are so lonely. She said this person has no visitors all year. It was hard to believe.” After the encounter, King went to her car and cried herself. That’s when inspiration struck.
“I thought there has to be something my team can do, so we asked customers and small businesses to donate to start Adopt a Grandparent.”
King, of Valparaiso, and about 30 of her team members who live in Northwest Indiana and Illinois worked on the project the past two years.
Ludwig Fish and Produce Company in LaPorte donates large white bags, which are decorated and colored by area elementary and preschool children.
The bags are filled with fuzzy socks, stuffed animals, blankets, and hand and foot cream.
During Christmas week, a team of “elves” get dressed up and hand deliver the goodie bags.
“We surprise these patients that receive no visitors all year long with these gifts. They're excited about the gifts but the physical presence is what they love the most,” King said.
Last year they adopted more than 400 local grandparents from nursing home facilities in Valparaiso, Michigan City, Portage, Crown Point and Merrillville.
The nursing homes help the team compile lists of seniors who know they are lonely.
“We adopt however many the nursing homes gives us. That's our goal number and we just work until we meet the goal.”
Pam Baldin, activity director at Golden Living in Portage, said the recipients love the visitors and treats.
“Last year, they called and said they wanted to do something nice for residents who have no families around or don’t have any family,” Baldin said. “I was on board right away.”
When the lonely residents received gifts last year, it brightened their day, she said.
“They felt like somebody really cared about them, not just us. When someone on the outside does that, it means a lot. It was a very special gift for them to get.”
She said there are different reasons a resident may have no visitors throughout the year.
“Some have it where families live far away and some don’t really have family that comes to visit them.”
It’s not too late to help even if you’re not part of a group, Baldin said.
Christmas gifts can be dropped off at the front desk. Suggestions include Kleenex, slippers, scarves, hand wipes and small snacks (other than candy.)
Help and donations are also needed throughout the year, especially during twice-a-week bingo games.
“We have probably around 45 to 50 residents who play bingo. We have organizations and people who will donate prizes. We do different prizes from ornaments to knick knacks to snacks.”
Groups such as Scouts and school groups can also volunteer to come play games or spend time with residents.
For more information, call (219) 762-9571, ext. 109.