Christmas comes early for TFH patients |

Christmas comes early for TFH patients

With tears in her eyes, Veronica Smith rummages through the shopping bag full of presents that’s been placed in her lap.

“I am so happy,” says the elderly woman – a resident of Tahoe Forest Hospital’s Extended Care Center (ECC).

“This is wonderful. Look at all of these beautiful things,” she adds, running her arthritic hands over the delicate blue lei someone hung around her neck.

Smith shows off the rest of her loot – a new sweater, candy, soaps and lotions and sapphire-like earrings – all courtesy of people she has never met before – Gene and Dorothy Fordyce of Sparks.

“This is the first year that we’ve done this and I think it’s wonderful,” Dorothy says, leaning over to hug Smith. “It can be so depressing for these seniors during the holidays and it’s nice to be able to do something special for them.”

The Fordyce’s were connected with Smith through their car club – the Farside Cruisers – a Truckee-based hot-rod club that’s been adopting seniors at the ECC for the last few Christmas’.

Last Sunday, the club held its annual Christmas party at the center – complete with presents, cookies and caroling.

“Isn’t this the prettiest darn thing you ever saw?” one cruiser asked an ECC resident as she opened a box containing a gold angel broach. “Mary, you’re going to be here for a month opening all of these boxes.”

According to club President Randy Silva, the group first learned of the center through Jackie Peffly, fellow cruiser and activities director/residential relations designee for the ECC.

“There are so many programs during Christmas to help out kids, but what about the old folks?” Silva asks. “A lot of times, people forget about our seniors and that’s why this was something the club wanted to get involved in.”

Every year, each ECC resident is asked to make a wish list, which is later hung on the center’s angel tree.

“Then, at our car club’s holiday party, Judy brings those wish lists with her and all of our members draw names of the residents to adopt,” Silva said. “We keep drawing names until none are left.”

Aside from making sure each resident has a package under the tree, the group passes around a hat to collect donations for an ECC slush fund. This year, members gave more than $400 in support of the 31 ECC residents.

“It’s funny, but 99 percent of the time the residents here just want KFC,” said cruiser and ECC employee Judy Peffly, with a laugh. “Since the club is so generous, though, it means that we can usually provide at least two or three meals for the residents.”

Sometimes the money even goes for a pizza and beer party.

“I think that sometimes the community thinks that just because the center is at the hospital, we have a lot of funds to pick from,” Peffly said. “That is not the case, though. There’s really no money to spare and no money for events like this, so that’s why this is such a nice thing for the residents.”

Another highlight of the annual party is the visit from the Claus family.

Farside Cruisers Jim and Judy Shine come dressed in full costume as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Even their little dog dons a Santa suit.

“Jim just looks like Santa,” Silva says. “Kids stop him on the street and just stare at him, even without a costume on.”

“I’ve been playing Santa for years, so for me, this just feels natural,” Shine added, as he bent down to give one resident a kiss on the cheek. “This is so important because a lot of these people tend to be forgotten. I’m here to make sure that they aren’t forgotten.”

Farside Cruiser Linda Olsen commented on the generosity of the club.

“We have no dues, but whenever someone needs help, whether it be in Truckee or in Reno, wherever, people in the club always come together, open their wallets and give whatever they can,” Olsen said. “We never ask for anything in return. We’re all just really caring people.”

Silva says when he gets older, he hopes there will be people to do the same kinds of things for him.

“For a lot of these people, this might be their last hurrah before… well, you know,” he said. “If they can go out with a present in their lap, a beer in their hand or a good meal in front of them, and a smile on their face, that’s really great. We just want to make life better for these people.”

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