‘Silver Bells’ Honors Seniors Caring for Children
By: David Ibata
When Captains Heather and Robert Dolby arrived in 2016 as corps officers in Anderson County, South Carolina, they had on their hearts a desire to do something special for senior citizens around Christmastime. Their inspiration was The Salvation Army’s Silver Bells program.
But where to begin? “We decided to pray about that,” Captain Heather said. “As time went by and we began Angel Tree registration, we began to see more and more seniors caring for their grandchildren, great nieces and great nephews – really, parenting a second generation of children.”
Historically, there had always been a handful of seniors taking care of little ones, “but this year, during Angel Tree registration, we’ve seen more than ever before. When we debrief our team at the end of the day, there is always a heartbreaking story about a grandma or grandpa in their 60s, 70s or even 80s caring for young children.”
Captains Dolby credit prayers and their bookkeeper, Stacy Holden, with the idea of doing something special for these older caregivers. The new corps Silver Bells program “meaningfully and intentionally focuses on seniors who are also caregivers to our Angel Tree children,” Captain Heather said.
The children’s parents are absent. Some have died; others are incarcerated or have addictions or mental wellness issues, or the state has removed the youngsters from their care. “You have grandparents whose own children are negligent or unable to parent, and they’re caring for their grandchildren out of love and compassion,” Captain Heather said.
It’s a surprise; about 100 of the seniors won’t know they too will get presents along with the children until the Angel Tree distribution in December. More than 1,000 children from 500 families are expected.
“Had we asked them if they wanted a Christmas gift for themselves, a few who would welcome it, but most would say no, it’s not about me, it’s about the children,” Captain Heather said.
Possible stuffers include lotions, powders, perfumes, aftershaves, brushes, combs and slippers. “They’re
‘Silver Bells’ honors seniors caring for children the kinds of things that don’t cost a million bucks, but if you open it up, you have a very nice array of practical, thoughtful items,” Captain Heather said.
Also, the corps has a Salvation Army Home League, a women’s group that will write personalized note cards with seniors’ first names, words of encouragement and a prayer for the New Year.
“We’re thinking big, but starting small and going deep with Silver Bells,” Captain Heather said. “There’s something powerful about the moment of revelation that somebody notices, someone cares. We want these seniors who are caring for the next generation to know they’re appreciated, thought about and cared for.”