Altruistic elves

Port Richmond residents collect donations and present to Nativity B.V.M. Place residents for Christmas

Patricia Ott, 68, receives cookies from the littlest Nativity Place elf, Delaney Dugan, 9 months

By Melissa Komar

Nativity B.V.M. Place residents received a visit during their holiday potluck on Friday, Dec. 22, from some special Christmas guests.

Nativity Place Elves stopped by to hand-deliver a gift bag and cookies to each resident, and Santa Claus joined in on the fun, too.

The gift bags were filled with everything from tissues, to toothbrushes, to cordial cherries, to crossword puzzle books and coupons.

The gifts and the “elves” were part of an initiative, “Port Richmond Nativity Place ELVES,” organized by Port Richmond resident Doris Steegmuller Lynch through Facebook.

When Catholic Health Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia opened the senior housing program in the former Nativity Catholic School in Port Richmond in 2015, Lynch decided she wanted to remind residents they were part of the community, some of them having lived in the neighborhood prior to moving into Nativity Place.

“I feel for them. They are in our neighborhood and that’s where it should begin,” Steegmuller Lynch said. “I have a heart for them because you hear about a lot of organizations for children and so forth, but you don’t hear about many for seniors. And, they tend to be forgotten.”

Steegmuller Lynch worked with local businesses and countless residents in 2015 to put together gift bags for all 67 residents, which she and her son, M.J., 22, dropped off outside each resident’s door on Christmas morning.

“We just wanted to do something to cheer them up around Christmas,” she said.

This year, the initiative was a group effort from start to finish, with some residents volunteering their houses as a drop-off location for donations and others baking homemade cookies.

Sara Popkin, director of social services at Nativity B.V.M. Place, was contacted by Steegmuller Lynch “to do something meaningful for the residents around the holidays.”

“The residents were surprised and excited to receive a special treat around the holidays,” Popkin said. “The holidays can be a difficult time for people, and to know that people from the neighborhood were thinking of them was especially meaningful. It makes the feeling of family we have at Nativity extend beyond the walls of our building.”

More than a dozen Port Richmond residents came to Nativity Place to help and dozens more donated items for the gift bags.

Children — some as young as 9 months old — donned elf hats on their heads and sleigh bells on their shoes when they presented the gift bags to the residents.

Michael McGurk, 11, was excited to give back to a worthy cause in the community, especially during the Christmas season.

Michael McGurk, 11, helps organize gift bags prior to handing them out to residents at Nativity B.V.M. Place as volunteer Sharon Bushey looks on. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

“I really liked bringing the bags and helping out the seniors because they might not have family to visit during the holidays,” Michael said, “and, so they feel loved.”

Michael’s mother, Chrissy, came across Lynch’s Facebook page, and made a few gift bags for the event in addition to bringing her elf along.

“We just wanted to give back to the neighborhood,” she said.

While the donations were appreciated, spending time with the children was the best gift, according to resident Patricia Ott, 68.

“It’s so nice to look into a baby’s eyes,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing with all the kids around. They bring so much excitement, and that’s what Christmas is about.”

Ott’s smile, and those on the faces of her fellow residents, was the impact Steegmuller Lynch hoped the elves and the initiative would achieve.

“We don’t want any senior at Nativity Place to feel left out,” Steegmuller Lynch said. “We wanted to let them know the neighbors are thinking of them and they are part of the neighborhood. And, to just brighten their day and put a smile on their face.”