"What a pleasant surprise to receive all of the beautiful gifts. They will make life a little more easier … it is a pleasure to know that there are still younger people caring for the very old."

These words were written by a 102-year-old man. The object of his thanks was a holiday gift basket.

This year, the Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging will be offering its 13th annual "Baskets of Bounty" program. The gift baskets are put together with a combination of items from the Commission on Aging and donations from the public. Volunteers deliver them to the seniors' homes.

"'Baskets of Bounty' is a Grand Traverse County program ... for seniors who are low-income and ... alone or not always remembered for the holidays," explained Lana Patenaud, facilitator of the program for the Commission on Aging.

The distribution of the baskets began in 1998, when just five baskets were delivered to low-income seniors. The program has grown substantially with 105 baskets delivered in 2008 and 80 in 2009.

For many of us, the holidays are a time when we share festive and quality time with our family and friends. But for many older adults the holidays can be lonely and depressing. Even though they may have good memories of holidays from their past, they need new things to anticipate and enjoy in the present.

For some recipients of the "Baskets of Bounty," it is the only gift that they will receive. The gift baskets are making sure they know someone cares about them.

"Everyone involved feels really great about this program," Patenaud said. "It feels so good to be able to help people. The seniors just light up when they get the baskets."

There are guidelines for the seniors who will receive these gift baskets. The low-income senior (below $10,830 annual income) must be 60 years or older and a resident of Grand Traverse County. The recipient must have few immediate family members or contacts close by, or the recipient's family members do not make contact with them or the recipient is entirely alone without friends or family for the holiday season.

The baskets contain four different types of items. The recipient will get some food items — nonperishable goods that the Commission on Aging supplies itself.

Listed below are the other items that the Commission on Aging uses to prepare the gift packages. Any donations of these items are gratefully accepted, but please make certain all items are new and unopened.

• Toilet paper

• Paper towels

• Kleenex

• Shampoo

• Conditioner

• Body wash

• Soap

• Lotion

• Deodorant

• Toothbrushes

• Toothpaste

• Lip balm

• Hand sanitizer

• Puzzle books, such as crossword and sudoku.

Cash donations are also welcome.

"We get some miscellaneous donations," Patenaud said. "Last year and this year, we have a group that quilts all year long and they give us lap blankets. Last year, we had one gal that crocheted all year and dropped off two huge stacks of crocheted blankets and we also had someone that brought us enough hats that almost every basket had a crocheted hat in it. So, we never know — we're surprised by special extras."

An 84-year-old woman affirms how important this program is to low-income seniors, living in their own homes and alone at the holidays: "Everyone's thoughtfulness alone is a gift beyond measure."

The Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging will be accepting donations for the baskets through Friday, Dec. 3. Donations may be delivered or mailed to the Commission on Aging office, 520 W. Front St., Traverse City, MI 49684. Donations can also be delivered to the Senior Center, 801 E. Front St.

If you know a senior living in Grand Traverse County that could benefit from the "Baskets of Bounty" program, contact Lana Patenaud, 922-4688, (877) 686-4688.

Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.

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