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Merced elderly receive gift of holiday cheer

A dozen moms and their children handed out stockings stuffed with presents to the elderly residents of the Franciscan Health Care Center in Merced on Friday.

Wrinkled eyes lit up with joy as the fresh-faced youngsters presented a little holiday cheer to residents, most of whom suffer from Alzheimer's disease or some form of dementia.

The gesture was modeled after Adopt-a-Grandparent, a Christian-based nonprofit organization working to connect "lonely and homebound seniors" with adult volunteers, according to its website.

The event in Merced was organized by local resident and mother Tonya Kubo, who said she was inspired by similar efforts in Fresno and the Bay Area. Kubo received donations from 70 individuals, which went toward a stocking that included hand lotion, stuffed animals and socks.

The idea is to bring holiday warmth and giving to people living in nursing homes, said Kubo. "It's an idea that has spread nationwide with the thought that around Christmas, especially as the recession took place, that nursing home residents seem to be the forgotten ones. Families, if they don't have a lot of resources, aren't able to visit over the holidays. They're not able to provide them with anything."

Kubo is no stranger to the effects of Alzheimer's. When she was a young girl, she remembered, her mother took her to the hospital to see her grandmother, who was affected by the disease.

"It's challenging," she said. "They forget their language. She had immigrated here, and she lost her use of English. So I really couldn't communicate with her. It just seems like one of the hardest things ever is to lose your ability to recognize people you love."

The Adopt-a-Grandparent movement hasn't highlighted child participation, but Kubo said almost everyone she contacted wanted to bring their children.

"The children are beautiful," said Connie Willis, 81, one of the residents who received a stocking. "I love all of them. I love children. I had eight -- five boys and three girls. And I love all of them."

The Franciscan has 68 residents and every one of them received a gift, said Rosie Dennis, social service director. "We don't have a whole lot of people that want to come out during the holidays," she said. "And a lot of our residents don't have family that are there for them. So the more people coming in and giving them gifts and showing them that they care, it means a lot to them. You can see it in their face. They get a glow in their face. It means a lot."

Cheri Worcester brought her children Ailisnn, 6, and Sam, 5, to participate. She said she decided to get involved because their extended family lives in Canada. "I don't have a lot of family down here, so it means a lot to me to come see a lot of people," she said. "So it's perfect for us to get involved and come and see some folks who didn't have grandchildren visiting at the holidays."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or