2014-10-31 / Front Page

Elder Elves a holiday tradition

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The Elder Elves are now accepting items and monetary donations to be used in gift baskets for elderly residents who might not otherwise have a happy holiday.

Kennebunkport resident and volunteer, Shawn O’Neil began the gift-giving effort about two decades ago while she was volunteering with Secret Santa.

O’Neil has contacted representatives of the Salvation Army, who provided the list of nearly 100 elderly residents who lived alone and were in need of practical items.

“That just breaks my heart when I think of it. Anyone like that needs a bit of cheer,” O’Neil said.

For four years, O’Neil and an independent group of friends and volunteers worked to fundraise and provide holiday gifts for the residents.

Then, in 1992, when the project became too big to handle alone, O’Neil recruited assistance from the Senior Center at Lower Village.

“A handful of them just grabbed ahold of it and they were great,” O’Neil said. Volunteers and employees officially named the operation Elder Elves.

The Elder Elves work with local entities such as the welfare office, town nurses, and Meals on Wheels to make sure their sweep of elderly residents is a full one.

“We say, this is the type of person we’re looking for, this is what we need, this is what we’re hoping to do,” O’Neil said.

“It’s truly a community-driven project,” said Carol Bousquet, volunteer and outreach coordinator at the Senior Center.

Even with a concerted effort among volunteers and local businesses, the Elder Elves still rely heavily on resident donations, Bousquet said.

“Some of these people have to choose between their medication and whether their home is going to be warm,” O’Neil said of the elderly residents. “So, (giving) warm items, to me, is always very important: socks, slippers, scarves and gloves. Money donations are really the best and then we can go buy what we need.”

Volunteers focus on procuring warm items, but also more lighthearted items like jewelry, mugs, handkerchiefs and Hannaford gift cards.

“We don’t just (want to give) a bag of necessities, but something to cheer them up a little bit, just to let them know someone’s thinking about them,” O’Neil said.

There are about 12 volunteers who help shop, decorate and wrap the baskets, which are always ornate and festive, Bousquet said. Usually one week before Christmas, O’Neil comes to collect the baskets and delivers them personally.

In recent years, the Elder Elves has provided about 50 baskets across Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel.

“It’s a relatively small group,” O’Neil said, “(But) we’re doing what we can, just for the people we do touch it makes a huge difference.”

The Senior Center is collecting items and monetary donations from residents and businesses now through Christmastime.

For more information on what types of items to donate, call Carol Bousquet at 967-8514.

Residents can also visit Norway Saving Bank in Kennebunk. Gift suggestions will hang from a Christmas tree in the lobby.

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