Most people associate the holiday season with family gatherings, Christmas plays and parties. For many individuals with disabilities it is a stark reminder of loneliness and isolation. Holidays are not the same for me now as they were when I was a child growing up. Christmas used to be filled with family, friends and lots of food. My holidays now are not what as they once were. My mom, brother and I spend Christmas Eve together and on Christmas Day I go to my dad’s for a meal. It is a far cry from the welcomed chaos of uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents and pets running around. Sometimes this really makes me sad. However, I still have family to celebrate with. There are many who do not even receive the precious gift of time and companionship.
This past weekend a wonderful group of individuals came to my apartment building and provided a wonderful holiday meal for all the residents. Jean and Dave Staktoski started the ball rolling and helped organize and coordinate this treat. Max Rea and his team from RE/MAX EXCEL, Fairway Mortgage and Living Well Faith Community all joined forces to provide a ham dinner, decorations, and Christmas Carols. Our once empty common room was filled with the smell of food and the sound of laughter. Stories and smiles were shared. Yesterday, Jean and Dave returned with boxes of food donated by K-Tech Charities. Again, as the food was delivered to one apartment after another, smiles were shared. Thinking about these past few days, there was so much to appreciate and be thankful for. However, the most important donation made that day was the gift of time. Human interaction cannot be wrapped. It cannot be purchased at a megastore. However, it is priceless…the most valuable gift of the season.
Holidays can be a very difficult time for individuals with disabilities. We are barraged with what Christmas should be on TV. Families gathering for meals, gifts under the tree and other Christmas activities. For many individuals with disabilities with fixed and limited incomes, these images can heighten feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression. I know from my own situation; homes of relatives and friends usually are not fully accessible or are not accessible at all. Homes I used to be able to be carried into when I was smaller are now out of reach. From talking to others in my building, this is a common obstacle. Limited funds can also mean limited transportation options. These are just a few of the obstacles that many individuals with disabilities face during the holidays.
Those who took time to share a meal with us understand the importance of a gift of time and the spirit of Christmas. A lesson I learned from my mom is every kind act sends out ripples. Helping others encourages them to do the same when circumstances allow. One kind act can create a cycle of kindness and love. In a time of turmoil and separation, this is the season to set many cycles of kindness into action.
Many people want to help but don’t know how. The dinner and fellowship provided by Jean and Dave Staktoski, Max Rea, his family and everyone from RE/MAX EXCEL, Fairway Mortgage and Living Well Faith Community is one way to share the gift of time. Donating food boxes like those from K-Tech Charities is one way to ease the hard times of others.
Here are some other ideas that can be put into action not just this holiday season but year round:
*Locate or rent wheelchair accessible vehicles and offer rides to Christmas Services to individuals with disabilities who have no transportation.
*Visit nursing homes and spend time with residents: talking, reading or singing carols. I remember when I was a member of the Key Club and we passed out candy at a local nursing home. I still remember a very sweet lady named Pearl, who touched me deeply.
*Decorating the home of an elderly or disabled neighbor.
*Inviting someone to your family dinner when they have no place to go.
*Volunteering at a shelter or food kitchen.
*Delivering food boxes, gifts, gift cards, etc. to low-income residential facilities for seniors and disabled.
*Supporting your local food drive or toy drive.
*Spending a night singing Christmas Carols to those who are unable to attend Christmas Services.
*Sharing a cup of hot chocolate and cookies with those unable to leave their house.
*Buy theatre tickets and invite an individual who is alone for the holiday.
*Buy a Christmas tree and decorations for an elderly or disabled neighbor. Be sure to return to assist in taking it down as well.
*Make blankets and pass out at nursing home, shelters and low-income buildings for the elderly and disabled.
*Rent a costume and play Santa for those alone during the holiday.
*Rent and watch Christmas movies with those at a local shelter, nursing home, low-income building for elderly and disabled, or with anyone who is alone during the holiday.
As we roll out of 2016 and into 2017, I hope “the gift of time ripples” spread far and wide!
Until next time, keep rollin’ and keep smilin’!
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