Special Thanks to Our Volunteers
Jo Finley’s “Care Sacks for Seniors” project remembers and
enriches the lives of Seniors First clients
Jo, a senior herself, is devoted to the cause of helping to recognize each Seniors First homebound client on their birthday with a beautifully decorated ‘Care Sack’. To some clients, this special gift is the only recognition of their birth that they will receive. To other clients, it’s an added gift. To each client it is acknowledgment that they’re special and they’ve been remembered. Jo singlehandedly raises the funds for her project, secures the personal care items that go inside, sews the sacks, and mobilizes her family and community volunteers to help decorate and fill them.
Jo’s ‘labor of love’ began in 2002 by leading a group of women from the Seminole Spokes Women’s Group in a ‘Senior Poppers’ project. The ‘poppers’ evolved into beautiful sacks…and an increase in Seniors First clients who receive them. To date she has sewn, decorated and filled over 11,700 Care Sacks!
Each sack contains items ranging from soaps and shampoos to tissues and toothbrushes; everyday essentials, but often too expensive for a senior’s limited budget. Men’s sacks include a razor and women may get a hairnet, and they also get a surprise – Jo collects costume jewelry to add as a special gift. This year Jo collected over 890 pieces! Each earring, necklace and bracelet was cleaned, sanitized and bagged for our special women clients to receive.
At the annual ‘Filling Party’, Jo’s husband, Norm, carefully counts each sack and places them in labeled boxes. The sacks are delivered to Seniors First where Meals On Wheels volunteers and staff present them to clients on their birthdays. The smiles that form on clients’ faces when they open their packages are enough to melt your heart! Recently, a Birthday Care Sack was delivered to 85-year-old Seniors First client, Marlene. Marlene was so excited to receive her special sack, she insisted on ‘modeling’ it because it was a perfect match with the outfit she was wearing! She also had ideas on ways to recycle her beautifully stitched bag!
Miss Ruth lives in an Assisted Living Facility and has very few family members able to visit. When her Case Manager handed her a beautifully decorated Care Sack for her birthday, Miss Ruth’s eyes sparkled. She was smiling as she took out each small item. There was tissue, a small soap, a nail file…but when she pulled out a necklace, she squealed with joy!! Miss Ruth LOVES jewelry and this was the best present she had received in such a long time.
Thanks to volunteers like Jo, thousands of seniors receive Care Sacks filled with love…and the support they need to help them thrive.
Veteran Continues to Serve
“With a thousand people doing one small step you get a lot accomplished”
~Al Johnson, US Army Veteran
and Meals On Wheels Volunteer
Four decades after his tour of duty in Vietnam, Al Johnson is still in the service. Al is one of several veterans who deliver to Seniors First Meals on Wheels clients. Every Tuesday, Al drives from his home in Poinciana to fulfill this labor of love.
Al’s call to duty comes naturally. As a young man, he served America as an Army paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Division. In 1968, he was wounded in the Tet Offensive and was sent to a hospital near his hometown of Boston to recover.
“The army matured me,” says Al who, after his military discharge went on to college and a 27 year career as a history teacher in the small town of Medina, New York, outside Buffalo. He retired a decade ago in Central Florida and wanted to keep busy. A newspaper article helped him find his next calling.
“It was in 2002,” Al recalls an article he saw in the newspaper about Meals On Wheels. “It had a picture of a woman named Lulu Bell.” Lulu’s story and personality so inspired Al, that he volunteered and has been driving a meal route ever since. It turns out that Lulu was on Al’s route. “She’s become a close family friend. When I deliver to Lulu, I stay for a half hour.”
Like so many volunteers, Al delivers more than meals. He brings a bright moment and friendship to the seniors he serves. “They really welcome you just to talk to them.” Al believes other people would help deliver Meals On Wheels, if they just knew what they could get out of it. As for the challenge of rising gas prices, Al says it’s a small price to pay. “If you live close to here, you might drive 20-30 miles. What’s that, a gallon of gas? That’s $4.00. You get a lot for that $4.00.” He has issued a call to other retirees who are looking for a fulfilling way to spend their time.
“They don’t know what they’re missing! If you have the heart to serve, this is such a rewarding experience. You meet some great people.” Al truly believes, “I get more out of it than I give.”
To find out more about Seniors First volunteer opportunities to deliver Meals On Wheels, be a Friendly Visitor, help with special events and more, call 407-615-8982.