This Thanksgiving I led a project at a Chicago Housing Authority building for low income, independent living seniors. I knew I wanted to do this because A) it would give me something fun to do with my family who always volunteers with me (sometimes whether they want to or not), B) I love going to this particular building to volunteer, and C) I honestly didn’t have very much planned for Thanksgiving myself. My extended family is mostly older now. There are a few kids but most of us are grown now and we do our own thing. This means that holidays sometimes aren’t as festive as they once were for me.

With that in mind, I started planning one humdinger of a Thanksgiving for this group of seniors. Ten volunteers signed up to help make this project happen. The menu consisted of all the staples: turkey, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, tossed salad, multigrain rolls, and mashed potatoes and gravy. I bought all this food planning on feeding about 50 people, but I honestly didn’t think we would have much of a turn out. I just figured since this was an independent living facility that most of the residents who came would just come to pick up a plate of food and then would leave to go hang out with their family. That was not the case.

As the room filled I quickly realized I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have much family to be around on Thanksgiving. One of the residents who I had met before and who I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with told me this was all she had planned for that day. After the meal and bingo she was going to go upstairs and watch TV. Another lady told me her family lived far away and her friends at the building were all she had for the holiday. Yet another woman told me she loves Chicago Cares, and would rather be with us and her friends at the building. After hearing all of their stories I quickly became thankful for the opportunity I had to bring this sense of community to these residents who would not have had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with anyone if it weren’t for Chicago Cares.

Chicago Cares seniors programming is grounded in this very idea:  regular social contact for seniors leads to a higher overall quality of life that allows them to remain independent longer [i] . Yes, it’s always great to feed those who are food insecure. And yes, it’s great to provide budget relief to those who have to decide between paying their bills or filling their prescriptions. But I think the service we provide that is the most needed is building a sense of community. Many seniors don’t have a large social circle to pull from. For many, their families and friends have moved on, or passed away, and the only circle they have are their neighbors. Our programming provides a fun and safe environment for seniors to build that sense of fellowship with one another. And studies have shown that one of the secrets to longevity is having a quality social circle that you can depend on.

Your donation to Chicago Cares seniors programming through our I Care Campaign will make sure that we can continue to provide a fun, open, and engaging space for seniors to build their community and continue to live long, healthy and fulfilling lives. $25 will provide the bingo prizes for one night of bingo. $50 will provide a hot breakfast for a group of 20 seniors.

Visit our I Care campaign to make a donation today. Or click here to fundraise for Chicago Cares.

[i] Tomaka, J., and Thompson, S and Palacios, R. (2006) The Relation of Social Isolation, Loneliness, and Social Support to Disease Outcomes Among the Elderly. Department of Health Promotion, University of Texas at El Paso.