When Alberta Hunter, 76, opens her gift from a stranger shell never meet, she will know she hasnt been forgotten.
Hunter is one of more than 700 area senior adults who participate in the Salvation Army Christmas Bureaus Silver Bells program. Hunter said the program reminds seniors that people still care about and value them.
Its nice for people to think enough of you to get you something, Hunter said. People think you get old and get forgotten. This might be one of the only times (a senior) gets something.
Hunter, a lifelong Charlotte resident, has lived for nearly 10 years at Midland Commons, an affordable housing community with 60 duplex units for seniors and those with medical disabilities. Midland services coordinator Jonas Richardson said the property has about 55 residents who participate in the Silver Bells program.
Shelley Henderson, director of communications for the Salvation Army, said the Silver Bells program has been connecting the community with seniors in need for almost a decade.
People love adopting Silver Bells; we never have enough of them, she said. The community loves them.
Henderson said the agency doesnt keep records of how many new recipients enroll each year, but she estimated the program served nearly 762 area seniors in 2011. Henderson said any low-income adult over 60 is eligible to sign up for the Christmas assistance. She noted many of the recipients come through assisted living centers, while others seek the program out themselves.
I really wish we could get more of our senior citizens (to) register, Henderson said. I think one of the barriers is getting out to register if theyre not already working with a social services agency.
Wishing for necessities
Henderson and Richardson both said everyday items are the most common holiday requests they see from seniors.
Most of the time its basic items, kitchen appliances, a housecoat, bedroom slippers, Henderson said. It always breaks my heart when someone asks for a gift card for some food. One year a lady asked for a new Sunday dress so she can go to church. Its mostly these necessities we take for granted that are their Christmas wishes.
Richardson said the Midland Commons community typically asks for bedding, household cleaners, toiletries and store and pharmacy gift cards.
Richardson said theres a big lead-up to the day when the Silver Bell gifts are distributed. We have a community luncheon, volunteers come in and serve dinner and give out the bags, he said. No two bags are alike.
Seeing those seniors receive those gifts, the smile and relief, how appreciative and humbled they were to receive these gifts. Its a highlight now, Richardson said.
It keeps me humbled.
Hunter said shes been involved with Silver Bells about six years. She has polio and uses an electric wheelchair which she jokingly calls her car to remain mobile. Hunter said her doctors want her to keep her arms warm to help alleviate her arthritis.
After a recent weeklong hospitalization, she now has a hospital bed at home, and Hunter said she would love an electric blanket to fit it. But she said shell be happy with anything she receives this year.
Whatever the Lord provides me, Im not hard to please, she said with a laugh. Hunter noted every gift shes received through Silver Bells has been special to her, and she fondly recalled the most memorable.
I like good pots to cook in. I got a set of pots that just did it for me, Hunter said. She added that her love for cooking has been limited by her arthritis. But I still throw something together.
Henderson also recalled one of the best gifts shed heard Silver Bells helped facilitate. One year a man asked for a new dryer because his had worn out, she said. The Charlotte Fire Department adopted him, brought a new dryer and did some home repairs. It was wonderful to hear.