As social distancing guidelines get stricter and people are no longer able to meet residents in nursing homes in person, the Umpqua Community College Student Nursing Association felt strongly about continuing their tradition of giving to those elderly people.

“Last year was my first time and I think by the end of it we ended up delivering just under 300 gifts,” said Natasha Peak, the student nursing association president. “It was an amazing experience so I know how much it touched people and I didn’t want to not do that again.”

The UCC nursing program sponsors a tree at Red Robin each year to provide nursing home residents with a joyful Christmas. This year the program is partnering with Umpqua Homes, which provides care for intellectually and developmentally disabled people, for the first time to reach younger residents as well.

Peak said about a dozen UCC students are involved in the event. In previous years they’ve gotten requests for 150-250 gifts.

Tags on the tree list items that residents have requested for their gifts. People can take the tags and return gifts to the restaurant or donate money in the donation jar.

Any money donated will be used to purchase gifts from any tags that went unfilled. Peak said in the past two years there’s been a demand for warm, fuzzy blankets and socks.

“We then collect the gifts throughout the time the tree is up and deliver them to the nursing homes and the staff hold onto them until Christmas,” said Caitlin Hatton, a second-year nursing student. “It brings so much joy to the residents and we know that the community really enjoys doing this, so we decided, with the approval of the nursing program staff, that we would go ahead and set this up again this year, despite COVID-19.”

Donations are due by Dec. 18, which will give the students time to go shopping for tags that went unfulfilled or missing.

In years prior, the students were able to get a grant from the college that allowed them to purchase additional gifts, but because there’s a spending freeze at the college it was uncertain whether they would receive additional help from UCC.

It’s just one of the changes that has been made due to COVID-19. In years past, all donations were collected at the end and the students would load them into an RV and deliver them to recipients in one day.

And while Red Robin won’t be able to seat any people for indoor dining, for at least another week, people placing their order or picking up their food will still be able to take tags from the tree and return gifts.

“It’s a busy place that a lot of people frequent so there’s a lot of support for it,” Peak said, adding that the tree has been here for at least five years and people have come to expect it in this location.

This year the donations will be dropped off at the front desks of nursing homes about once a week.

“There are so many people out there who haven’t seen anybody in such a long time,” Peak said. “I just know that people are out here thinking to themselves, we’re alone in this. It feels like that sometimes. But they’re not and we want to show them that they’re not alone.”

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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