We often think about bringing joy to children during the holidays — especially to those in need or who are ill. However, there is another generation of community members who have serious concerns and might need a little holiday cheer of their own.
According to Feeding San Diego, 27 percent of seniors living in San Diego County are considered low-income, which means they fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This group is at the highest risk of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
A recent county-wide community health needs assessment highlighted food as the number one social determinant of health. Often, when a senior is unable to afford the general cost of living, something must be sacrificed and that may be food, medicine, health care, lodging or other basic needs, all of which can affect their health and wellness. In fact, according to Sharon Rudnick, manager of Sharp’s Senior Health Centers, 2 out of 5 San Diego seniors must choose between paying their rent and buying food each month.
Katherine Wright, office coordinator of the Senior Health Center in downtown San Diego, found that it does not take much to help lessen basic financial concerns of the center's patients or brighten their holidays. She and her colleagues have launched a "Giving Tree" program, which allows community members and staff to donate gift cards for the seniors.
The Downtown Senior Health Center provides specialized care to meet the unique needs of the area's underserved seniors. The center is a fixture of the downtown neighborhood and offers medical and behavioral health care as well as social services to ensure that patients can continue to live healthy, independent lifestyles in the community they love. It came as no surprise to Wright that a neighbor was the first to create a Giving Tree to benefit the seniors they serve.
"A woman from one of the surrounding condominium buildings set up a Christmas tree in her lobby and asked residents to donate gift cards to go to the patients of the health center," says Wright. "We thought it was such a great idea that we put up our own tree here at the center and sent emails to our friends and family members and made social media posts about donating to our Giving Tree."
Each patient who visits the center in December leaves with a gift bag, a gift card to a local business, and the true feeling of the spirit of the holidays. Gift cards can be used at a local drug or grocery store for prescriptions, over-the-counter medication, food and even a special treat, or can be enjoyed at a local fast-casual restaurant.
"The seniors are so touched when we give them the gift bag," says Wright. "It puts a big smile on their face and we usually hear a very cheerful 'Merry Christmas!' or even receive a hug."