St. Margaret Mary students share Christmas with seniors

SHELTON — What started as a project for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque students to bring some Christmas joy to the residents of Gardner Heights Health Care Center spread throughout the community in the spirit of the season until hundreds of gifts were collected, from pajamas and socks to crossword puzzles and personal care items.

“What began as a little idea blossomed and grew rapidly,” said Heather Moura, the Director of Religious Education. “This is the result of the mustard seed that grew into a beautiful bush.”

It all began when Deacon David Sochacki and his wife Kathy made their regular visit to the home to pray the rosary and give Communion to the residents and were approached by the recreational therapist Morgan Lovell who told them, “I wish you could do something for them for Christmas because many of them don’t have family.”

Deacon Sochacki approached Moura, who emailed the families of the 80 students in her religious education program. Many of the parents, in turn, spread the word to organizations they were involved with, including ambulance services, the Knights of Columbus, the Walking With Purpose Bible study group, Mary Kay beauty products and even the University of Connecticut dental clinic, which donated dental supplies.

Moura said the wide variety of several hundred gifts included toothbrushes, soap, cosmetics, lotions, perfumes, cologne, eyeglass chains, pajamas, slippers, socks, hats, gloves and bags of candy from the Girl Scouts. In addition, $400 in donations was collected, which will be used to finance an event for the residents.

There was such an outpouring of giving that each of the 100 residents received two bags of gifts with enough left over for people who move there in the future.

“The students also made Christmas cards and helped me wrap the gifts over two weekends,” Moura said.

She was joined by parishioners Sarah Graham, Deacon Sochacki and Thomas Jensen of the Men’s Group, who loaded up four cars and brought them to Gardner Heights the Monday before Christmas. Because of COVID restrictions, the students did not go to the home.

“The staff was waiting outside for us, jumping up and down they were so excited,” Moura said. “It was the cutest thing. They ran out and hugged us and were shocked that the cars were piled to the top with gift bags. They unloaded them and brought them to the recreational room, where they will be distributed. And they’ll send pictures of the residents opening their presents to the students.”

The best gift of all is the one the students received, which was a lesson about giving.

“It teaches the kids about the importance of giving,” Moura said. “It’s not just about receiving. It’s about giving and caring for the elderly.”