Southsider Voice correspondent
A few weeks ago an 80-year-old Johnson County man with bare kitchen cupboards finally asked a neighbor for help.
Another senior was soaking dog food in water, softening it enough to eat.
These are only a couple of the many reasons why Kimberly Smith, executive director of Johnson County Senior Services, is praying for a Christmas miracle.
That miracle involves the purchase of a $360,000 building, where she and her staff can finally have the space they so desperately need.
As Smith offers a tour of the facility operated by the 38-year-old nonprofit, she squeezes past donations stacked to the ceiling and enters the cramped area where volunteers barely have enough floor space to move from one shelf to another as they pack up donated food items for delivery.
“This is the list of seniors with immediate need for food,” Smith said as she rifled through several pages of names.
The amount of senior citizens needing food assistance has increased by more than 40 percent in recent years. The need for transportation to chemotherapy, dialysis and other appointments has increased by 60 percent. Add the fact that the parking lot is not large enough for the transportation vans and vehicles belonging to staff and volunteers, and Smith’s hope just grows even stronger for that miracle to be granted.
“There’s enough room in the new building for all of the supplies and donations. There’s also space for drivers to warm up the vehicles for a few minutes before picking up the little sweeties,” Smith said.
The need for a larger space to store medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers and shower chairs also has Smith hoping that Santa’s elves come out in droves this season, with their checkbooks in hand.
Yes, that huge price tag on a perfect building may sound like a long shot.
But no dream is too big when she thinks about all the needs caring for “this precious generation,” Smith said.
Hoping to give more than 600 seniors a little something from Santa, donations from community elves have overrun the already-crowded office.
A large wrapped gift on one of the desks is filled with towels in a clothes hamper. That gift is for a senior female who was homeless for seven years and recently was provided with Section 8 housing.
A Christmas delivery last December was made to a 92-year-old woman who sobbed as she unwrapped her present, Smith said. “All she wanted was a pair of house slippers. Hers were so old they were slick on the soles. She had not had a gift in 30 years, since her husband died. She thought no one ever remembered her.”
While dedicated staff and volunteers continue to stretch every possible resource to help seniors, Smith continues to hope for that much larger building.
“We take care of thousands of seniors. And I dearly love them all.”