The art of giving is not exclusive to the young and heathy.

Some seniors, despite residing in assisted living facilities, find ways to continually contribute to their communities.

This season, residents at MacGregor Downs Health and Rehabilitation Center raised money, knitted hats and collected toiletry items to give to those less fortunate.

Knotted, arthritic fingers and hands loomed colorful strands of yarn with love, weaving together a connection to the outside community.

The knitted threads will render a dual blessing. Hats, for the recipients — a warm reminder someone cares — and for the craftsman, knowing they’ve made a difference.

Giving back helps seniors connect, according to Terry Edwards, activity facility manager at MacGregor Downs. Giving also can lower stress and give them a sense of purpose, she said.

Residents at the facility voted to partner with East Carolina University’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement and the Pitt County Department of Social Services to help them reach those in need.

Residents raised money to buy a turkey and collected all the trimmings for a Thanksgiving spread for a family assisted through the university’s efforts.

They presented the money and food items last week to Lauren Howard, assistant director at the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, for ECU’s annual Turkey Palooza drive.

In addition, residents presented hand-knitted hats and collected toiletry items to DSS to distribute to families in need.

A group of women at MacGregor Downs, the Mad Hatters, knitted various-sized hats all year long in anticipation of the giveaway. On Friday, social workers Kendra Norville and Jennifer Stroud were presented with hats enough for 423 heads — tiny ones for babies born prematurely, larger ones for children and adults.

Resident Mad Hatter Linda Evans told Stroud and Norville, “In each piece and every piece, our love goes with it.”

Anna Garrett Arnold, activity assistant and Mad Hatter director said, “We are a small but mighty group. It has been a really cool thing to see these people be able to give back to the community.”

Arnold said that throughout the year, and especially during the holidays, the Greenville community reaches out to MacGregor Downs, making sure residents are not forgotten.

“They want to donate things, give their time and sing carols,” she said.

“What I think is incredibly special is (the residents) have been working all year long for this Christmas donation,” Arnold said. “The community isn’t forgotten by them. It is still very much on their hearts.”

Arnold said she overheard Mad Hatters talking about how special it feels to give to people who are in need and to keep children’s heads warm.

But for some, picking up a loom and hook can be intimidating, especially for those who have been through life-altering illnesses, such as a stroke.

“People come in and say, ‘I can’t do that. My hands don’t work the same, my mind doesn’t work the same or my energy is not the same,’” Arnold said. “To see them overcome those challenges is incredible.”

Mad Hatter Janet Bullock said, “This is way a person can give back to the community and make a difference.”

The group has enabled people with disabilities, who are poverty stricken or have low self-esteem to learn, “we can still work together to make a difference in our community,” she said.

Another resident admitted to being one of those with low self-esteem when she entered.

“I thought I had given up everything,” Darlene Rowe said. “When I started getting into (activities) it helped me so much, mentally and physically, to learn something new. And do something I felt was so giving.”

Edwards said she tells residents not to focus on what they don’t have.

“You’ve got to think about what you’ve got now and what you can embrace,” she said. “One of the things we drive home is, use what you have now. It’s OK that you don’t remember. It’s OK if your hands are not as strong, or your eyes aren’t as strong. Someone will always be there to help you. We are family.”

Opal Stoneham knitted all her life before coming to the facility. After learning to loom hats, she knitted 20 on her own to give to her daughter to take to Honduras this summer.

“They will be given to people living in orphanages and those who live in a dump,” Arnold said.

Edwards told the story of a resident whose tears turns from sorrowful to joyous.

When Jackie Spells first entered the facility, “all she could do was lay in bed, look out of a window and cry,” Edwards said. “We never gave up on her. We loved her and helped her find the woman that she was again.”

One day, Spells built up the courage to attend a Mad Hatter session. After several months, step-by-slow-step, she overcame tremendous difficulties caused from a stroke. Now, she is able make hats independent of help.

“I think it is such a huge testament of what she has overcome and what she can still do,” Arnold said. “Even when hard things have happened to you, your heart can take you a lot of places. This is a really incredible group.”

Edwards said as Spells realized she could contribute to those less fortune, her life took on new meaning and purpose. Sad tears became tears of joy. Now, she especially enjoys knitting pocket-sized hats for babies.

“That is what the holiday spirit is all about — giving and using what you’ve got and loving,” Edwards said.

Spells’ infectious smile brightens the room as she weaves a florescent orange hat, one of the first for next year’s contribution.

Her tears flow as she threads the loom, knowing the creation she knits will touch the heart of someone in need.

Contact Deborah Griffin at