Hill House Reimagined Holiday Gift Giving Program Reminds Seniors They Are Integral to the Greenwich Community

The pandemic has been a particularly lonely time for seniors. Many are isolated and missing in-person contact from their families. Seniors in congregate settings like Hill House, with 61 units in Riverside, lost their shared meals and group activities.

Hill House residents are provided a nutritious daily meal served in the dining room where they have an opportunity to socialize and make friends, but group activities evaporated last March when the pandemic arrived.

And while much focus during the holidays went to children, Lisa Crowley, the Hill House resident service coordinator and social service programmer, shared the story of an extensive effort among Hill House residents to spread joy to seniors in the broader Greenwich community.

“I’m a firm believer in voluntarism, especially among older people,” Crowley said. “I can always bring in someone to do a concert. I can always organize Bingo. Those are great and serve a purpose. You need to be entertained and have a laugh, but you also need to be given the opportunity to feel a part of the mainstream and feel purpose in your life.”

Toward that end, the residents at Hill House, a facility for low- to moderate-income seniors, adapted the Holiday Gift Giving Program they created prior to the pandemic.

Rita Lynch, Mildred Cogliandro at Hill House, where residents collated, labeled, stamped and mailed out gift cards to 143 Greenwich seniors.. Contributed photo

Crowley said a couple years ago Hill House coordinated with the Dept of Human Services to identify Greenwich seniors to receive gifts.

Residents at Hill House put their pennies together and bought gifts for three people.

In addition, giving trees were placed at locations including The Water Club, J House, Hyatt Regency and Hill House with names of 98 more seniors across town.

Mildred Cogliandro, Sylvia Proudfoot, Geraldine Christophersen volunteering at Hill House. Contributed photo
Rita Lynch volunteering at Hill House. Contributed photo
Mildred Cogliandro volunteering at Hill House. Contributed photo

“The Town of Greenwich gave us their names and a list of gifts,” she recalled. “And Pet Pantry donated cat and dog food for 13 seniors in the community with pets.”

“People pulled the names off the trees, and bought the gifts,” she recalled. “And the residents here wrapped 300 gifts for the 98 seniors.”

From there Crowley said GEMS, the Fire Dept and town social workers all delivered the gifts to the 98 seniors.

In addition, the Hill House residents purchased gloves, scarves, hats and other winter items and placed them on the tree at Hill House – enough for all 98 seniors in town.

This year, the effort had to be reimagined.

Crowley said the community really stepped up and about $4,000 was raised through a GoFundMe page, with Hill House residents again putting their contributions into a jar for an additional $459.

All the funds were used to purchase CVS gift cards for 143 Greenwich seniors, and the Town of Greenwich social workers were excited to participate.

“The cards could be used to purchase anything CVS sells, including meds if needed,” explained Town of Greenwich social worker Tina Corlett, who added that the idea for CVS gift cards came from Marie at Greenwich Municipal Employees Credit Union.

“We got great feedback from the seniors who received gifts,” Crowley said. “We got comments like, ‘It’s so nice that someone cares,’ or, ‘It’s great that people think about us.'”

Eileen Morris, a resident of Hill House, pressing the button to launch the GoFunMe page for the Holiday Gift Giving Program for seniors in Greenwich. Contributed photo
Claudette Benvenuto, Sylvia Proudfoot volunteering at Hill House. Contributed photo.

“It was a perfect fit for our population, and a bit of sunshine in an otherwise not so sunny year,” Corlett added. “The Greenwich Department of Social Services sincerely appreciates the continued generosity of the Hill House residents.”

While this year the gift cards were mailed instead of delivered in person, Crowley said the feedback had been fantastic.

“It’s a lonely time and it’s so hard on all of the seniors,” she said. “They’re an important part of the Greenwich community.”

“I am very big on giving back to the community,” she continued. “Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you don’t count and can still do so much good for the community.”