Two friends were on a mission to spread festive cheer this Christmas by donating gifts to residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to ensure nobody was forgotten this holiday season. 

In Christmas of 2017, Barbara Rotunda from St Petersburg, Florida, spoke to her pastor about what she could do to give back to the community over the festive season. 

“Plenty of people make sure kids have presents,” he said. “You should see what the seniors need.” He suggested that Ms Rotunda visit a nursing home and offer her time to residents without family. 

Acting on this suggestion, Ms Rotunda was struck by the discovery that many residents lacked basic necessities. She was particularly touched by one resident, Nancy, who had experienced a serious accident at the age of 46 and was confined to life in a nursing home.

There was a striking similarity between their stories: at the age of 46, Ms Rotunda was having dental surgery when a medical error led to her oxygen supply being cut. 

After spending a week in hospital and months in rehab, Ms Rotunda was told by doctors that she may never be able to live independently again.

During her recovery, Ms Rotunda learned to walk and talk again, but was unable to return to work. “I’m so blessed,” she said. “I could have spent the rest of my life in a facility.”

Ms Rotunda (left) and Mrs Torell-McDonald (right) were keen to ensure that elderly people were not forgotten during the festive season. Photo:

During the nursing home visit, Ms Rotunda was troubled by Nancy’s condition: she had no clothing, no shoes, and was living in a hospital gown. It was then that she decided to dedicate her life to helping society’s most vulnerable and improving the quality of life of nursing home residents.

The scale of the problem is concerning: at Orchid Cove in Clearwater, Florida, 60% of residents have no visitors or income. At Balance Healthcare in St Petersburg, Florida, only 11% of residents have family or a bank account. 

Teaming up with her neighbour and close friend Jean Torell-McDonald, the pair surprised 13 residents at Nurses Helping Hands, an assisted living facility in Pinellas Park, Florida, with Christmas presents. 

The experience was transformative—the joy and appreciation they observed motivated them to embark on an even more ambitious mission—to bring the magic of Christmas to as many people as possible. 

“We focus on nursing homes with people that are in need,” Mrs Torell-McDonald said. “We’ve discovered that especially here in the Florida area, there are many people that have outlived their money, outlived their friends, outlived their families.”

Similar to Ms Rotunda, Mrs Torell-McDonald is personally invested in the project. In her personal life, she has dealt with issues in her family including cancer, dementia, and her own husband being admitted to a nursing home. 

The experience has been eye-opening and has become Mrs Torell-McDonald’s way of giving back to the community that has helped support her husband.

Ms Rotunda and Mrs Torell-McDonald have been shopping for seniors for the past 5 years. Photo: Tampa Bay Times

After expanding operations, in a bid to reach as many nursing home residents as possible, Ms Rotunda and Mrs Torell-McDonald had served over 400 people across 5 different facilities by Christmas of 2022.

In July 2023, the pair established the non-profit organisation Resident’s Hope. Now, every dollar they are donated goes towards buying gifts for nursing home residents during Christmas, as well as providing year-round support through clothing and supplies to residents in need.

“We buy everything new,” Mrs Torell-McDonald said. “But we really try to stretch every dollar.” 

The flagship event at Resident’s Hope is the Christmas Giving event where the organisation reaches out to nursing homes, compiles a list of the residents in the facility, shops for gifts, and personally delivers them. Each present is wrapped with the Resident’s Hope signature bow.

Resident’s Hope has given gifts to over 650 residents this Christmas. Photo: Tampa Bay Times

“I remember the initial call from Barbara, her voice sounded so enthusiastic,” recalls a member of staff from Balance Healthcare. “I became light as a feather as our conversation continued. 

“I gave Barbara the number of residents we had at that time, which was around 200. Barbara stated that Resident’s Hope could provide for all of them. 

“Thank you Barbara and friends for all your love and support. Resident’s Hope has been a true blessing to this facility.”

Click here if you would like to support Resident’s Hope.

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About Author

Zayna is a Content Editor at Salesforce Ben, a Freelance Writer at LeadGeneratorsDigital, and a Contributing Writer at Good News Shared. She hopes to cast light on the ripple effect of small acts of kindness that lead to great waves of change.

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