Beth Tollefson and Adrienne Deruyck wearing ugly sweaters and showing off the gifts!

Living Well is happy to report that the Giving Tree is back this year, and bigger than ever. For the past five years businesses and individuals alike have contributed holiday gifts to people who live at our homes but do not have family to celebrate with. This year’s list was long, and happily each and every holiday wish was granted!

The students from the Center for Community-Engaged Learning bring gifts to Paul’s Place.

Students with the Center for Community-Engaged Learning at the University of Minnesota helped promote the Giving Tree this year and enabled us to fulfill all gift requests in record time. The program coordinates connecting students and classes with community non-profits, and we were lucky to have Amanda, Dawson, Dillon, and Jackson advocate for us by researching who to reach out to, and develop materials including a flyer, email and thank you note. With their coordination and assistance, we started delivering gifts this week, and have already witnessed many happy holiday celebrations.

Kathy Anderson and Tony Derose.

Living Well Board Member Tony DeRose was one of the drivers delivering gifts and had a blast spreading holiday cheer. Tony is a long time Living Well supporter and we are so lucky as he consistently advocates for the people we serve. Never one to miss the opportunity to go all in – he even showed up dressed as Buddy the Elf. Tony adored seeing the SMILES on all the faces, both gift recipients and staff. And he enjoyed spending a little holiday time with everyone as it warmed his heart, and brought a big, big smile to his face—even behind the mask!

Tony and Mary.

Tony told us, “Spending time celebrating the holidays with our staff and the people we serve in their home, where they live, by their Christmas trees, reminded me how special and close the bond is between Mary and Lyndsey, one of our direct care professionals at Mary’s house.” He said it is very much that same closeness that is present in his home with his family around the Christmas Tree, celebrating the holidays. Adding, “Life is better, when your smiling…” We totally agree, Tony! And Lindsey Thomas, Program Manager at Brookview called the Giving Tree amazing, adding, “Mary felt so special. I think this made her whole week.”

This was fun—125 gifts, 21 homes, and 36 people!

Dillon Orth, Program Manager at Paul’s Place, where all the people who live there were on the Giving Tree list, says the program is so wonderful because it guarantees that nobody will feel left out during this festive season. He said, “They were all super excited to not only receive thoughtful gifts from their wish lists, but to spend time with the students. Many thanks to them for taking the time to hang out with the people at Paul’s Place.”

Big thank you to our Delivery Drivers!!

Big Santa-sized thank yous to employee teams at Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cornerstone Copy Center, Fuss Marketing, Midwest One Bank, Minnesota Urology, and River Hills United Methodist Church. And also, to Mary Derks, Kate Heimer and Burt Hedstrom, and Hannah Wikum for personal donations. Without their generous giving and gifting, 21 of our homes would have had some very disappointed people, and likely a few less believers in holiday magic. With their help there were over 125 presents under the tree, for 36 individuals that wouldn’t otherwise be on someone’s gift list.

Living Well Volunteer Manager, Kathy Anderson, loves the Giving Tree because it is fun to see the community involvement, and how excited they get about collecting and giving presents to people. She says with gratitude, “This year we have some returning groups and new groups, and I really appreciate the collective enthusiasm as well as the joy they bring to the homes.”

Laughter and love at the holidays!

All of us at Living Well know that holidays can feel extra exhausting with nearly full dance cards, long shopping lists, menus to plan and parties to attend. Which is why, as the Grinch would understand, our hearts grew two sizes just knowing so many people pitched in to make others feel loved and supported this holiday season. From all of us to all of you, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanza, and Happy Holidays! May this season find you healthy and well