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Elementary students continue 51-year-old tradition of gifting seniors, despite COVID restrictions

Students weren't allowed to deliver the presents in person, but still delivered the gifts to the long-term care facility where staff handed them out.

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — In a year where a smile is hard to come by, a laugh is more valuable than ever.

"This entire year has been an adjustment," said Audra Ramirez Karis, an employee at Mountain Vista Senior Living Community. "It has been a challenge. It really has."

COVID-19 welcomed itself inside the Wheat Ridge long-term care facility with a vengeance, spreading early in the pandemic, infecting dozens of residents.

For much of the year, residents have been in isolation, talking to family through windows and staying in their rooms. Jenn Ray is the wellness director at Mountain Vista. 

"COVID hit our building really hard in the spring. We lost way too many residents," said Ray. "The challenge has become protecting them from the mental health challenges – the isolation has taken its toll on them."

As hard as smiles are to find, the staff at Mountain Vista knew they had to do something to bring happiness around the holidays. 

For 51 years the senior living facility has received gifts from Fairmount Elementary School down the street in Golden. Usually, more than 100 students come to deliver the gifts in person. This year, because of COVID restrictions, they couldn’t do that, but still collected gifts to be passed out to senior residents by the staff inside.

Felicia Santillanes, who works at Mountain Vista, dressed up as Santa and handed out the gifts to her residents. 

"My biggest thing is to try and put a smile on their face every single day. I feel like as long as I do that, I’m doing my part," said Santillanes. "Being Santa for them meant a lot, not just for them, but for me also."

Some residents received chocolates, while others were gifted hand-drawn Christmas cards and everyone received a smile. 

"Our mantra has basically been, it’s going to look different, but we’ll still make it meaningful," said Ray. "It was amazing. It was the closest sense of normalcy we’ve had I think since March."

The staff and residents of Mountain Vista Senior Living Community also received another delayed Christmas present – on Monday, they received the first doses of the vaccine and already vaccinated all of its residents and staff who chose to get one.

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