Dowagiac woman donates Christmas gifts to the elderly

DOWAGIAC — The weekend before Christmas, Dowagiac resident Kimberly Vanderbelt’s living room looked like Santa’s workshop came to life. From underneath a Christmas tree, presents, wrapped in green and striped paper, spilled out onto her floor and couches, taking up every last inch of space.

While Vanderbelt, just like the man in red himself, went out of her home to deliver all those gifts to throughout the community, she did not distribute them to the young boys and girls in Dowagiac. Instead, she donated the gifts to area senior citizens.

Last weekend, Vanderbelt distributed all the gifts under the tree to the elderly residents of Niles’ Chalet of Niles nursing home and Dowagiac’s Forest Glen Assisted Living as part of her annual “Adopt a Grandparent” program. For the program, businesses and individuals donate to purchase a gift for a local senior. Vanderbelt then collects, wraps and distributes the donations to local nursing homes.

“Some [senior citizens] may not have families in the area,” Vanderbelt said. “This way, they get a little something from all of us. Not just from me, or not just from you, but from everybody. That way, they know that they are still important.”

Vanderbelt said this year’s distribution went well. She delivered more than 117 gifts to local senior citizens. However, she said she one day hopes to collect 500 items to give away around the holidays.

“That’s my ultimate goal,” she said. “That way, I can hit all six nursing homes [in the area].”

The Adopt a Grandparent program has been going on for several years, as Vanderbelt said she felt called to give back to the elderly, many of whom spent the better portion of their lives giving to those younger than them.

This year, Vanderbelt got some members of the younger generation involved with the program as two foreign exchange high school students who are staying with her, Dana Nguyen, of the Czech Republic, and Pattrakarn “Jamp” Sucharitkul, of Thailand, helped with soliciting donations and distributing gifts. Both of the young women said they found enjoyment in participating.

“I think [senior citizens] might be lonely in the nursing homes, so it is good that we are going there and giving them presents,” Sucharitkul said. “They know that we care.”

Though Vanderbelt said the presents provided by the Adopt a Grandparent program might seem like a small offering to nursing home residents, she sees how much joy it brings them, which is why she hopes to continue the program for years to come.

“We are touching people this way,” she said. “Some of them are so happy, it almost makes you want to cry. … It’s wonderful to see.”

Vanderbelt collects donations throughout the year for the “dopt a Grandparent program. To donate for next year’s program, call Vanderbelt at (269) 414-1579.

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