TAMPA, Fla. — Lisa Esposito earned the title of “Head Elf” over her 16 years of service. The Tampa attorney dressed in her traditional December outfit of jingle bell slippers, a Christmas vest, and pointing elf ears Thursday morning.
She, once again, looked the part.
“This is my favorite time of year,” she said. The flashing Christmas lights necklace reflected off her glasses.
Esposito teamed up with Tamara Cribben nearly two decades ago after Cribben created the nonprofit Elves For Elders. Cribben, who works as Executive Director of Aging Solutions, Inc., noticed a forgotten subsection of the community. Seniors and elderly in nursing homes who were under the office of public guardianship were going without the traditional Christmas cheer.
“In general, people tend to forget about our elderly,” she said.
Cribben set out to change that. Now, 17 years later, more than 300 elders will receive gifts through Elves For Elders this December. Led by Head Elf Lisa, donated gifts, purchased by community sponsors, will be delivered on the 21st to multiple nursing homes across Tampa Bay and other neighboring counties in Florida.
It's all in an effort to help those without family nearby to feel loved at Christmas.
“It would make you feel less alone,” said Gayle Kongsubto. She and her colleague Felicia Colon delivered gifts to Esposito’s office Thursday morning. They were purchased by members of their law firm Silver & Agacinski in Tampa.
“It gives me a warm feeling,” said Colon.
Same goes for Danielle Kemp and Jordan Behlman. They work at Greenberg Traurig, another law office in Tampa. The back hatch door on their SUV barely closed because of all the gift bags sent from their office.
“I think it’s huge,” said Jordan Behlman, who in addition to providing presents also goes caroling at nursing homes with his family. “You just see their eyes light up. They just don’t get that kind of interaction most of the year.”
The deliveries are the best part if you ask Esposito. She tells stories of “Cheeto John” and other elders who have taken up special residence in the hearts of “elves” throughout the years. Most elders receive basic living necessities and a few splurge items – bags of chips, comfortable socks, and even CD players.
Most of the people under the guardianship of the state live off $35 per month. That budget is taken up quickly in most cases. Simple items like snacks and blankets – even a pair of shoes – make a huge difference in the lives of those living in nursing homes.
Esposito likes to share the story of a man named Jose, who received a pair of shoes through Elves For Elders. It was the first pair he’d owned that properly fit his feet in three years.
“He wanted to sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in his new sneakers,” she recalled. “So, he sang and danced with me and went through the nursing home meeting others for the first time in years. That’s is what this is all about and that is what changes lives and that is why Elves For Elders is so important.”
The Elves For Elders non-profit takes gift and cash donations to provide presents for elders. Last year they raised about $8,000. The year, they have taken in $6,400.
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