We think about Christmas as being especially for kids. as Dec. 25 approaches, toy stores bustle and nonprofit programs for youth get a yuletide bump in volunteers and donations. Operation Santa Claus programs at local churches drop off presents at inner-city elementary schools. National church networks like the Prison Fellowship Ministries' Angel Tree program hand-deliver gifts to children in the name of their incarcerated parents. Such initiatives deserve all the support they get, and more.
Yet most local congregations have no programs at all for senior citizens. Nationally, about 4 million seniors live in poverty, and millions more live as frail or homebound shut-ins. In the Philadelphia area, Aid for Friends (AFF) has mobilized more than 250 churches and some 16,000 interfaith volunteers to assist elderly people in need, but few other cities have such faith-based, senior-serving networks.
You can change that. Make December a special month for remembering the aged who are disabled, impoverished or aching with loneliness. Redefine Christmas as a season for preparing to bring hope and peace year-round to needy older neighbors. Visit the AFF website (aidforfriends.org). Find out how many seniors live in your community. Map out local elder-care centers and retirement homes. Volunteer to visit, drive, prepare meals, perform handyman duties, donate bathtub grab bars or toiletries or contribute money to others who do. Have children craft greeting cards, assemble food kits or make supervised home or hospital visits.
And if, like us, you are a Bible-believing person, maybe call your Christmas-redefining initiative Operation Psalm 71: 9: "Do not cast me aside in my old age; as my strength fails, do not forsake me."
Dilulio and Bridgeland worked in the White House on community-service initiatives during President George W. Bush's first term
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