The Clinton-Sampson Rotary Club wrapped warmth and love around residents of the Clinton House Monday, offering gifts, fellowship, a few Christmas carols and a whole lot of love.
Santa hats atop their heads, arms laden with gift bags, the Rotarians entered the nursing care facility wearing bright smiles and offering their best vocal rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful.’ As they entered the dining hall, shouts of joy mixed with claps and murmurs of “look at that,” “wow,” “are those for us” could be heard.
“We wanted this to be a surprise for them,” said Priscilla Aycock, Clinton House activities director, “and it certainly was. They couldn’t believe all these people had come out just to see them.”
As the residents ate lunch, the Rotarians sang and handed out the gift bags, many offering, or receiving, hugs and thank yous along the way.
“This is a great event. I love being a part of it,” said Rotarian Jeff Swartz. “Being able to help with their basic needs is a wonderful way for us to help put smiles on their faces. It reminds us just how much we take for granted, and how much others appreciate even the smallest thing.”
This is the fourth year the Rotarians have made the Clinton House their Christmas project, gathering such things as toiletry items, needed clothing, pajamas and a few sweet treats to fill bags for each of the residents. This year, the group opted to stuff the bags with toiletry items and a bright blue blanket emblazoned with the Rotary’s seal. The blankets, Aycock said, were a needed item among the residents, particularly with winter weather on its way.
Rotary President Dr. Paul Hutchins said the club decided the blankets would be beneficial, and an added surprise to the Christmas goody bag.
And surprised they were. Resident Rebecca Todd shouted with joy as Aycock pulled her blanket from the bag for her, holding it up so she could get a closer view. “Look,” she exclaimed, reaching out to touch the blanket and nuzzle it to her face.
Other residents followed suit, pulling the blanket from their own bag and hugging it close. “I love it,” said Willie Allen. “It’ll keep me warm.”
But as delighted as the residents were with the gifts, the fellowship between the Rotarians and the residents, Aycock said, meant more. “They love it when people come to visit, take time with them. For some of these folks, this might be the only visit they get from someone for the entire holiday. Some have families, but many of them don’t. That’s why this is so special. It means more than you can really put into words.
That feeling was reciprocal, with Rotarians touched as much by the time with the residents as the Clinton House group was with their visit.
Tears formed in her eyes as Rotarian Eileen Coite tried to put into words what it meant to be a part of the group’s annual Christmas trek to the facility. “Wow, what an amazing feeling this gives you. Seeing their smiles, knowing that you’ve done something that has really, really made a difference, well it’s hard to put into words how that feels.
“The smiles from these residents just touch your heart. They are so appreciative of the things most of us take for granted. It reminds us what Christmas really is supposed to be about. There’s no question what we’ve done here today is the true spirit of the season,” Coite said.
Hutchins said he was thrilled that the visit to — and adoption of — the Clinton House had become an annual event for the Rotary Club. “It’s one of my favorite things to do each year. It really puts you in the Christmas spirit. After all, this is the real reason we celebrate Christmas, doing something special for others.”
The Rotary president offered thanks to each club member for their purchase of a blanket for the residents and their additional donation of toiletry items for the Christmas bags. And he said a special thanks needed to go to club member Victoria Byrd and her family for volunteering to stuff each of the Christmas bags with donated items as a family service project of their own. “It was a tremendous help,” Hutchins said, “and a very unique thing for their family,too. We really appreciate their efforts.”
Byrd said she and her husband, Ivan, try each year to come up with a small service project for them and their girls to do each Christmas season. Stuffing the Rotary Christmas gift bags seemed an ideal way to give back.
“It was the perfect project for us to be involved in, and my girls loved it,” Bryd noted.
In all, 36 residents, ages 40 and older, were given a Christmas gift bag at the Clinton House Monday, a great way for the group and its staff to kick off the holiday season.
“They love this,” Aycock said. “It is such a special treat for them. We cannot begin to thank the Rotarians enough for bringing a little Christmas magic to our house. We are planning a big Christmas dinner for them, too, so this sort of starts the season for them.
“Our residents are some good, sweet people. To see them so happy is very special. We owe that to the Rotarians,” Aycock said.
Reach publisher and editor Sherry Matthews at 910-249-4612. Follow her on Twitter @sieditor1960; follow the paper @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.