Crenshaw Baptist churches continue tradition, deliver Christmas to nursing home residents

Published 1:45 am Thursday, December 22, 2022

Nine volunteers from churches in the Alabama-Crenshaw Baptist Association delivered Christmas gifts and holiday cheer to around 130 residents of Luverne Health and Rehabilitation LLC on Saturday.

At least seven churches helped with the effort, donating money and collecting items so each resident received pajamas or a blanket and the staff enjoyed snack-filled treat bags.

“This really helps all the residents,” said Haley Graham, a nurse in the facility. “Because of COVID-19, being shut up in their rooms [to cut down risk of exposure] and not being able to do anything or see anyone really brought a lot of people down. Since we have let people back in [the facility] and these Christmas boxes really mean a lot to them.”

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The event marked the first in-person delivery for the group since COVID-19 hit in 2020.

“In 2020 and 2021 we were not able to go in,” said Alabama-Baptist Christmas event organizer Whitney Exline. “We had two years where we gave them gifts and goodie bags, like a party in a bag. We couldn’t bring cake and cookies like we had in the past and couldn’t meet with residents. We couldn’t do a party, but they could still have an extra ‘Christmasy’ treat.”

Organizers don’t recall quite how long association churches have delivered Christmas to the Luverne-based care facility. For many years, individuals and mission groups collected new and gently-used items and operated a “Christmas store” where residents could select gifts for themselves or friends and family and enjoy refreshments.

For the past four years, Exline said the association has collected individualized presents for each resident. Before COVID-19, residents who were able attended a Christmas party and the group delivered presents and treat bags to bed-bound residents, singing carols upon request.

“This brings residents so much joy,” said Lawanda Harrell, the facility’s social worker. “They know the people in the community take the time to think about them during Christmas and give them gifts. It just brings a lot of joy to them.”

Volunteers were allowed to enter the facility this year, entering rooms of residents who were open to receiving guests and leaving presents outside the door for those who’s health concerns required limited visitors.

“Because of COVID, we gave them treat bags to have a sort of party in their room,” Exline said. “We just went from room to room and stayed in the hall to help them feel safe. Everyone received something so that they would know that even during troubled times when we can’t go in, we still wanted them to know that they’re loved.”

Some residents requested the group sing Christmas carols. And so, volunteers gathered in the hallway to sing and convey Christmas cheer.

“We love to see people,” said one resident. “We love all the volunteers. Thank you so much. This just made my day.”

Exline said the event is important for volunteers as well as residents and helps to teach younger churchgoers to serve others.

“We need to teach our kids how to serve,” Exline said. “We need to let them know to take care of our elders. So, I do it in a way that they can see. Residents love when the children are involved. They love seeing and interacting with them.

“My kids are involved and they look forward to the event. They were eager to go into rooms to talk with [residents] and tell them, ‘Merry Christmas.’ It teaches kids we need to give.”’