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 countywide 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.
Maria Baron, RN, a clinical case manager with the Sharp 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.
"The original intent behind the Giving Tree was to give our senior patients an opportunity to open a 'gift'; although the gift is small in monetary value, it still makes them smile and feel connected to the clinic and practitioners," says Baron. "This is our third annual drive and over the course of that time, it has become a gift that truly keeps on giving."
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.
"Our giving tree has provided our patients with much more than a gift card; it has given them hope for better times in the year to come," says Baron.