Elder helpers pack gifts for children around the world

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The power of positivity has shaped Thelma Friedman's life. At 85 years young, she is a cheerleader for the Palmettos Assisted Living community in Bluffton because they welcome - and encourage - her involvement.

Her positivity trickles throughout the community as she rallies others to be engaged.

Edith Reed, receptionist at Palmettos, has been involved for 20 years in Operation Christmas Child, a ministry project of Samaritan's Purse, an international relief organization. This year Operation Christmas Child celebrates 25 years of partnering with churches and organizations around the world.

To date, the organization has delivered 157 million shoebox gifts to children in need in 160 countries. Shoeboxes are packed full of toys, school supplies and hygiene items.

"The goal for 2018 is to produce 360 shoebox gifts for the poorest of the poor," Reed said. "I know our residents always want to help, and I thought it would be a good project. They have a great desire to do something other than play games - to participate, and to experience the feeling that comes with doing good."

This is the second year that the Palmettos has participated in this initiative.

When Friedman was asked to participate, her response was, "You can count on me." A dozen residents filled 50 shoeboxes for girls and boys, ages 10-14. Friedman gives all the credit to Reed for organizing, shopping and delivering the boxes, but admitted that Reed needed helpers.

"It was a social activity," Friedman said. "It was like an assembly line, but it didn't feel like it was piece work in a factory. And we didn't have to punch in and out! Not everyone is able to stand, so I would tell them to park whatever 'vehicle' they have and take a seat."

Friedman's vehicle is a walker with an oxygen tank, but it doesn't stop her. "We all have problems here," she said. "After all, it's assisted living. So, we help and assist each other."

By packing Christmas Child boxes, the residents are helping others around the world. The team packed shoeboxes for two days chatting and laughing, and many continued the work in their own rooms to cut 500 mailing labels.

"Kids sometimes don't get anything at Christmas," Friedman said. "Every individual gets benefit from helping others. My mother taught me that."

Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.

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