By Susan Saldibar

Traditionally, every holiday season we set our tables for gatherings. Napkins, plates, glasses. It’s a ritual in anticipation of bringing our loved ones together. Where do we seat grandma? What about Aunt Nancy? Who will sit at the head? Separate table for the kids? And so on.

This year will be different. Grandma and Aunt Nancy will be remain tucked away inside their assisted living communities. As will many younger family members who are caregivers working holiday shifts. So all eyes are on senior living communities and with it comes the pressure to perform.

The brunt of that pressure will fall to your EDs and the engagement staff, as they work to find ways to bring the holidays within your walls in ways you haven’t conceived of before. So, if paper turkey centerpieces and Christmas trees won’t pass muster this year, what will? How will you “set your table” when you know that many of your residents (and staff) are yearning to be elsewhere? Morrison Living has some answers. 

Not Only Serving Wonderful Meals, but an Extra Helping of Care and Love

I spoke recently with Regan Medzhibzher, VP, Marketing & Communications for Morrison Living, and Rachel Bell, Director of Communications. (Morrison Living is a Senior Living Foresight partner.)

Morrison Living is all in with ideas to bring the holiday spirit alive for residents in challenging times. That goes for senior living staff as well. “It’s also important to look at engagement for associates,” Rachel says. “They are the bright spot in everyone’s day, and they are too often overlooked. Yet this pandemic has been wearing on them as well.”

Spreading Holiday Cheer

I asked Rachel and Regan to share some tips for communities to help them spread more holiday cheer while finding ways to better connect and engage with residents. 

Here are some of their suggestions:

  1. Service with a smile (or even a laugh). For residents who prefer to dine in their apartments or rooms, include a card with a handwritten note that is tailored to the individual, whenever possible. Even a joke of the day can add some humor and bring a smile. For CCRCs and larger, more diverse types of communities, Morrison Living’s Serving Smiles package has 50+ cards with thoughtful quotes such as, “Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day” or “There are dark clouds but they will move on. The blue sky above never leaves.”
  2. Create a holiday snack cart. This can be especially effective for those residents who are reluctant to come out from their rooms. Try a rolling holiday cart with a portable music player and some healthy holiday treats. Hearing cheerful holiday music coming down the hall is a door-opener and brings residents human contact that is so needed these days.
  3. Provide a pop-up grocery market. According to Rachel, the Morrison Living pop-up grocery market idea came about because residents wanted grocery items to take back to apartments. So they created a take-out “market on the go”. During the holidays, you can add special festive holiday gifts and healthy snacks.
  4. Bring the experience of holiday traditions to every resident’s room or apartment. Many families have a holiday custom to visit a tree farm and pick a tree. Morrison Living suggests communities purchase mini-sized pine trees and poinsettias for each resident to decorate and enjoy in their apartments or rooms.
  5. Encourage baking to connect and engage. There are lots of creative ways to center activities around baking, especially during the holidays. Here are some ideas from Morrison Living:
    • Bake cookies, decorate gingerbread “houses” and other holiday treats, and have a taste test or other fun competition to pick a “winner”.
    • Create holiday baking videos, both instructional and informal to show off baking skills.
    • Celebrate National Cookie Cutter Week (1st week in December) with special videos and contests. Invite residents and staff to share their favorite cookie cutters.
  6. Celebrating with Convenience. As associates are busy keeping residents safe, provide them with a convenient option for their holiday meal that saves them time, limits their exposure to new environments, and showcases the delicious food produced at your community daily. Create dinner options that can be taken home and put right on the table!

Don’t Stop There

All of these are great ideas, but the Morrison Living team encourages communities to keep an open mind for new ones. Regan tells me that they’ve gotten some great input from their associates on Workplace by Facebook and have integrated them into their programs. They suggest communities do this as well. Good ideas can come from anywhere. 

We had almost ended our conversation when Regan made a really interesting observation, one that bears noting. She talked about a heightened interest she is seeing expressed in our elders during these times. “I think we are understanding just how important and precious our elders are, and all the wisdom they have to share,” she says. “Especially those of us who are younger and who are feeling a bit lost in this crisis. Many of them are from the Greatest Generation. Think of all they have been through in their lifetimes!” 

Something to think about as you “set the table” for your residents this year. 

You can send your own personal “smile” to one of the 70,000 residents Morrison Living serves by visiting