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 From left, Happy Echlin, of Grosse Pointe Farms; Bonnie Wachter, of Grosse Pointe Farms; and Colleen Kordas, of Grosse Pointe Farms, assemble baskets for homebound seniors at the Helm at the Boll Life Center Dec. 10.

From left, Happy Echlin, of Grosse Pointe Farms; Bonnie Wachter, of Grosse Pointe Farms; and Colleen Kordas, of Grosse Pointe Farms, assemble baskets for homebound seniors at the Helm at the Boll Life Center Dec. 10.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Helm packages up some Christmas cheer

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published December 13, 2019

 Jean Gilbert, 101, of Grosse Pointe City, left, is an active member of the Helm at the Boll Life Center in Grosse Pointe Farms. She and her daughter, Charlene Gilbert, right, were among the volunteers who assembled gift baskets for homebound senior citizens.

Jean Gilbert, 101, of Grosse Pointe City, left, is an active member of the Helm at the Boll Life Center in Grosse Pointe Farms. She and her daughter, Charlene Gilbert, right, were among the volunteers who assembled gift baskets for homebound senior citizens.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Melinda Campion, of Grosse Pointe Shores, and Susan Gartz, of Grosse Pointe City, were among the volunteers who helped assemble baskets Dec. 10 at the Helm.

Melinda Campion, of Grosse Pointe Shores, and Susan Gartz, of Grosse Pointe City, were among the volunteers who helped assemble baskets Dec. 10 at the Helm.

Photo by Deb Jacques

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — For more than 15 years, the Helm at the Boll Life Center has put together some special Christmas gifts for seniors in the Harper Woods and Grosse Pointe communities.

Every year, volunteers at the senior assistance organization collect donations of cash or goods to put together gift baskets that they deliver to members of the community who can’t easily leave their homes due to health reasons.

“These folks are people who — for whatever reason — can’t grocery shop for themselves and often can’t cook for themselves,” said Helm Executive Director Peggy Hayes. “This could even be a temporary situation where they may have just had surgery or something, and it takes a few weeks for them to get back on their feet. This gives them something special for their holiday season.”

The majority of the recipients are those who take part in the Helm’s Meals on Wheels program.

“This is where we have collected a lot of nonperishable goods that we package and bring to homebound seniors,” said Helm Communications Coordinator Karen Fontanive. “This is mainly people who receive our regular Meals on Wheels services, as well as others who for whatever reason can’t get out. It just brings a little extra cheer.”

The baskets contain numerous items all provided by local community members.

“A lot goes into the baskets — nonperishable food items like cereal, tuna, canned vegetables, canned soup and so forth,” said Fontanive. “There’s also toiletries like soap or shampoo. We also include games and puzzles, and this year the students at Trombly Elementary made some cards that we put in the baskets too.”

Those who put the baskets together are all volunteers. Many said their favorite part of the project was that they were giving the recipients more than just a few helpful items.

“It helps homebound seniors, who are usually pretty lonely,” said JoAnn Gerlach, one of the volunteers. “This basket event not only gives them a wonderful gift full of wonderful surprises and helpful items, but it also gives them a person to come with a smiling face to deliver it with them, and they usually spend some time chatting. Some of the homebound seniors don’t always have people to talk to.”

All the items and money are donated from community members, and one local organization gave the Helm some extra help.

“We get most of our donations after we put notices in our regular publications,” said Fontanive. “This year, the Grosse Pointe Board of Realtors went the extra mile and put collection boxes in each of their offices for this project.”

Fontanive said the Helm has continued this program due to the overwhelming feedback it generates.

“Everybody enjoys it so much, from the volunteers to the people who donate,” she said. “They don’t just donate goods, but they donate the cash to buy goods. People put it together, and then we get some great responses from those who deliver the baskets to the seniors.”

Everyone involved expressed their happiness at being able to contribute to the basket program.

“It’s just a very feel-good project from the people who donate, to the people who put it together, to the people who deliver the baskets, to the people who receive them,” remarked Fontanive. “It’s a wonderful, heartwarming program.”

“It’s obviously a very good feeling knowing we are helping people and making a difference in peoples’ lives,” added Gerlach.

Hayes, Fontanive and the other Helm administrators said they are thankful for the support from the community.

“This community is wonderful. They came together, they donated the money and items for these baskets, and they are bringing a lot of Christmas cheer to people who might not get a lot,” said Hayes. “We try to take care of those in our community who are age 60 and older. We have our Meals on Wheels program, but this is a way of going above and beyond that and giving back to the community that raised us.”