Hearts open for Adopt a Grandma/Grandpa program

There are tender anecdotes, carried back to MAC Inc. from social workers who deliver Christmas gifts, about senior citizens carefully placing packages under little trees.

“These are people with no family, or no contact with their families. They won’t open that gift until Christmas,” said Bruce Bennett, who organized the Adopt a Grandma or Grandpa program in 2001.

A few years ago, he and his wife, Jinya, saw a request from a woman asking for a decent dress so she could go back to church, and not be embarrassed.

“Yes, we both cried,” Bennett said.

“To me, this is the true spirit of the season. You have the opportunity to reach out to someone you don’t know and touch them. From their standpoint, they have a total stranger giving them a Christmas gift, thinking of them at the holidays,” he said.

Through the program, local residents can receive a name and wish list from seniors who have no relatives, shop, wrap and tag, then take the present to MAC. Or, Bennett will pick it up.

One of the MAC social workers who delivers gifts is Terri Davidson.

“It is so heartwarming. The smiles are worth a million words. They are just so happy to know somebody is thinking of them,” she said.

“A lot of them are struggling to make ends meet. Oh, my gosh, they get so excited. That’s what Christmas is all about. They are just like little children. Their eyes just light up,” she said, adding many of them receive not one, but an armful of surprises.

Bennett said planning begins every year in September.

“We e-mail each other and then Valerie sends me lists from the seniors,” Bennett said, referring to Valerie Wagner from MAC, an acronym for Maintaining Active Citizens.

This year, Bennett received 99 names, and passed them on to generous adoptive shoppers.

“Valerie coordinates for all of the counties,” he said. MAC serves Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset and Dorchester counties.

“When your get these names you start reading into it. You might get a name of a woman and she wants warm socks and a blanket. To me, that sounds like that lady is cold. She probably has the thermostat set on 50 degrees.

“When you get the shopping list, you draw some conclusions. They don’t ask for much, probably because they don’t have much,” Bennett said.

“You get to either follow the list, or fill part of the list, or even go off the list with your gift choices,” Bennett said.

He got involved after overhearing a co-worker say she was taking her children to shop for seniors.

“Come to find out, the MAC caseworkers were getting some simple presents for seniors, paying for them out of their own pockets … Some of these people were actually just barely hanging onto their homes,” he said.

He wanted to help and now works with Wagner, director of MAC’s retired and senior volunteer program.

“The social workers go through their list and see which ones are more needy or don’t have anybody around,” Wagner explained.

“It’s a wonderful program at Christmastime. It seems like everybody is doing something for kids, so this is a nice program so our seniors are not forgotten,” she said.

General donations are also accepted from those who don’t have a senior’s name. Particularly appreciated are puzzle books, lotions, soaps and gift cards, especially for pharmacies, to help pay for prescriptions.

“We have an opportunity to open our hearts,” Bennett said.

“My mother died in 2000, then my mother-in-law died in 2001, so this was good for my wife and for me. We were fresh out of little old ladies to buy presents for,” he said. His family members and in-laws quickly got involved.

This year’s deadline for delivering to MAC is Dec. 15. Anyone interested can e-mail Wagner at rsvp@macinc.org.

“It’s an anonymous thing you can do to help someone,” Bennett said.

“That’s the spirit of the season, giving and helping others. I do it for a very selfish reason, that I get a lot of fulfillment out of doing it.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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