Like old friends greeting one another, warm smiles are exchanged before Richard Gumpert and his wife Evie share a JFS holiday basket with Anna. This exchange is about more than a holiday gift basket. It is about company and conversation.
“We are happy that you don’t forget us,” Anna said. “I like Richard and appreciate his attention. Each time he comes we speak about Jewish history and a lot of other things. His visits are very important.”
Four times a year, JFS and its volunteers deliver Jewish holiday baskets to more than 100 people. Many recipients are older adults or people with disabilities who can often feel isolated from their neighbors and Jewish community. The company that comes with basket deliveries is part of a collective support system that depends on volunteers like Richard and Evie.
“Having that visit is more important than the honey cake inside the basket,” said Adam Halpern, Director of Older Adult Services. “It’s really about human connection.” The basket deliveries are one way JFS focuses on reducing the isolation vulnerable people can experience. The deliveries, along with personal attention from a care manager, and in some cases, regular visits from a volunteer help people feel more a part of community and less alone.
Reducing isolation is essential because research continues to show isolation has negative effects on mental and physical health. To add to that, holidays can be particularly stressful. “They can be reminders of how isolated and alone people are,” Halpern said. “So, it is important people have connection around the holidays.”
Richard first started volunteering to make and deliver holiday baskets with his friend, Gordon Godfred, about a decade ago. “It became very clear soon after we started that this was not just about the food,” Richard said. “It was about the visit.”
Some recipients warmly accept the holiday baskets and say their thank yous, while others invite Richard into their homes. “I can’t tell you how many cups of tea and cookies and coffee cake we were offered to entice us to stay and visit, which we are happy to do” he said. “To sit with someone and create a relationship is what most of them want.”
At times, Richard and Evie are some of the closest friends their holiday basket companions have. One man, who has since passed, told the couple they were the most important people in his life next to his daughter. “I look forward to these visits more than anything else,” Richard recalled him saying.
Never was it more clear. It is not about the baskets. It is about the company.
By Rachel Anne Seymour, Marketing & Communications Manager