Gift drive for Pilsen seniors aims to alleviate isolation

Unlike most days, 84-year-old Cruz Mendoza wakened vivid and early on Dec. 18 to iron his plaid shirt and polish his sombrero and sneakers to put on to the Christmas luncheon within the foyer of his senior housing facility, Casa Maravilla in Pilsen.

He spends most weekends alone and that’s one thing he’s used to, he stated. But on holidays, the solitude — with which he has made peace — turns into loneliness and nostalgia for the times when he was surrounded by hugs and laughs from his household.

“This makes me feel loved,” Mendoza stated in Spanish as he walked out carrying a blue bag stuffed with presents from a group reward drive. It is the primary time he has gotten presents in many years, he stated smiling.

When the pandemic hit, Cristina Puzio realized that it was not simply COVID-19 that was killing older adults, it was additionally loneliness and despair, she stated. So for Christmas 2020, she invited group members to donate items for seniors in Pilsen as a manner to brighten their vacation. It’s now a convention that greater than 200 older adults in senior housing obtain items and spend a day with one another and group members, listening to Christmas melodies and consuming a standard meal.

For Mendoza, who has lived alone at Casa Maravilla for almost 12 years, the occasion was particular. “May God bless them all so that we can spend more time like this together,” he stated.

Girl Scout Jocelyn Vanzant, 12, gives a gift bag to Herbert Vasquez, 63, during a gift give-away at the Pilsen Satellite Senior Center.

More than 50% of the residents on the facility stay alone and most of them have a tendency to spend holidays by themselves, stated Ricardo Enriquez, director on the senior middle. Casa Maravilla is a facility for low-income seniors within the neighborhood directed by The Resurrection Project, an area, nonprofit group improvement company.

To see the seniors smiling is refreshing. “Things like this remind them that they’re not truly all alone and motivates them to keep going,” Enriquez stated.

Though lots of them have households, few go to the seniors all through the year. For many, the reward they get from the group is the one current they’ll get for the vacations.

According to a current examine, many older adults are socially remoted or lonely — or each — in ways in which put their well being in danger. Nearly 1 / 4 of Americans age 65 and older who stay in group settings are socially remoted, which means they’ve few social relationships or rare social contact.

Though it’s onerous to measure exactly, sturdy proof means that, for older adults, social isolation and loneliness are related to an elevated probability of early dying, dementia, coronary heart illness and extra, in accordance to the 2020 report by the AARP Foundation and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Maria Teresa Llanito, 77, has skilled that loneliness since her accomplice of greater than 40 years died three years in the past.

“Christmas made me feel happy, but since my husband died, I haven’t been able to assimilate,” she stated as she ate a tamal. “I think about him every moment of every day.”

The luncheon, although, helps her to “forget about the pain for a little while.”

Girl Scouts Irene Vasquez, 12, left, and Jocelyn Vanzant, 12, put pamphlets in blue bags during a gift giveaway at the Pilsen Satellite Senior Center at Casa Maravilla on Dec. 18, 2022.

She sat subsequent to her good friend Cirila Mosso, 67, who opened her reward little by little. There have been socks, snow globes, a pack of tortillas and even ornaments to enhance their tree. The girls smiled and rocked to a melody on their chair. For the second, Mosso forgot why she doesn’t like the vacations: Her mom handed away in Mexico and he or she by no means received to see her once more.

“That’s the sadness that invades my life,” Mosso stated in Spanish.

On Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mother’s Day, her coronary heart shrinks a little bit extra. “I’m reminded of her when I see other people with their families,” Mosso stated. She has lived on the facility for 5 years. She’s spent some Christmas days at native church buildings and different instances, on Christmas Eve, she gathered with different seniors in her constructing to eat dinner.

Through the reward drive, Puzio, an vitality therapeutic practitioner within the neighborhood, desires to assist the seniors know they’re cherished and appreciated, and to encourage them to create a household with these round them.

Now, with assist from the Pilsen Satellite Senior Center at Casa Maravilla, the Association of Latin American Students, El Paseo Community Garden and the Girls Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, Puzio hopes that the efforts are expanded and mirrored in different nursing properties, rehab facilities and even particular person households via the Chicago space.

The organizations fill the reward luggage with objects donated by group members. But past donations of money or materials objects, the perfect reward for seniors is time, thoughtfulness and giving them some company, Puzio stated.

During the vacations, consideration is usually geared towards kids and plenty of organizations maintain toy drives, however older adults are sometimes forgotten, Puzio stated.

Ananias Flores, 78, smiles as he receives a gift bag at the Pilsen Satellite Senior Center at Casa Maravilla on Dec. 18, 2022, in Chicago.

The pandemic helped flip a number of the consideration to the vulnerability of seniors, she stated. “We often assume that seniors have family, but the reality is that many of them don’t, or they only have chosen family,” Puzio stated. Many Latino older adults are additionally low-income, and a few are undocumented. For these causes, even fewer can afford to correctly rejoice the vacation.

Many seniors cry after they get their reward, Puzio stated. “They get emotional and they are surprised that we care, that we are doing this,” she stated.

Puzio stated she hopes that different people and organizations notice the significance of bringing consideration and resources to seniors who stay alone. It may simply save their life, she stated.

“Spiritually, people want to connect, feel seen, feel heard,” Puzio stated. “Like they are a part of a family or that they have someone who can be there for them.”

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