LIMA — On Thursday at 5:30 p.m., Joyce Barga and her friend Sandy Hull, along with some volunteers will be celebrating Christmas with the residents of the Dominion Building Apartments, a downtown housing complex for those 62 and older.
Barga and Hull have been doing the yearly meal and party since 2003. “I really do appreciate what she does for our residents every year,” said Shelly Werling, the property manager for the Dominion Building Apartments.
Barga started the yearly party as part of a deal she made with God. Several years prior to the first party at the Dominion Building Apartments, Barga lost her son in a car accident, and her world caved in. In her journal, she wrote, “How can anyone live with this much pain?”
It took her a while to come to terms with the loss. “It’s one of the worst things that can happen to a person — to lose a child,” she said. “It did take me a while to be able to stand up again.”
Then, just a few years after that, a dear friend got bad news. “She got a not-so-good diagnosis,” said Barga. “When I heard that, I started pleading with God — ‘don’t let this happen again.’ I told God I’d do anything.”
Barga, who had worked at the farmer’s market when it was located downtown, had met those who lived in the area, some of whom had very sad stories, so she decided to go to the Dominion Building Apartments to see if she could do anything for them.
“Part of my pleading,” she said, “was that I would do something for the Dominion Building residents.”
Unsure of what that something should be, she visited the building and talked to the building manager.
“He got up and came around the desk,” she said, “and I thought he was going to tell me to leave, but when he got closer I saw tears in his eyes. Due to the times we live in, nobody came there anymore. He said any little thing would be appreciated.”
When Barga left, she wondered what she had gotten herself into. She called her good friend Hull who suggested she dress up as Santa. Within a short time, Barga had three different Santa costumes given to her — one handmade.
Barga asked Hull to help her and the two have been doing the meal every year since with few exceptions. “We’ve missed maybe two years,” Barga said, “due to health or being out of town.”
Each year, the two women meet together one or two times to come up with a menu and divide up the tasks. They then ask different friends to help them.
“We average about 10 volunteers every year,” said Barga. “They aren’t always the same people, though.”
While some things have been donated, for the most part Barga and Hull purchase and make everything they need.
“Primrose (a local assisted living community) has been great,” said Barga. “They have donated the turkeys the last couple years. Some people will donate things, and grocery stores have donated some of the canned goods.”
In addition to turkey, the meal includes mashed potatoes, vegetables, salads, rolls and dessert. Each resident is given a gift bag as well.
“We wanted everyone treated equally,” explained Barga. “We do a lot of unisex type of gifts and every bag has the same thing in it. Usually there are some cans of soup, gloves, soap, toilet paper and bananas.”
Barga said that they usually have about 35 to 40 residents that participate, and if someone is too ill to come downstairs, they take the food and gifts up to them.
Every year, they also have a simple game, sing Christmas carols, and have some entertainment. “Honestly, our biggest challenge is to get a short, 15-minute entertainment every year,” said Barga. “One year, we had a lady come in to do balloons; we had a swing choir, a quartet. This year I talked to a lady and we have two guys coming in to sing.”
For Barga the reward is the reaction of the residents. “You can’t replace a hug you get from these people who are lonely and lost,” she said. “To see the sparkle in someone’s eye that we take the time and we care.”
Sherry Sykes, resident and activities director at the apartments, said, “Joyce is wonderful. I’ve been here nine years, and she’s been here every year. All the residents love it — everyone is down in the community room. It’s a really happy time in their lives.”
Barga has no plans to stop doing the meal and party. “When I was pleading with God — He knew best,” she said. “He knew what to do with me.”
The residents feel they got the best part of that long-ago bargain. “All you see are happy faces when she comes,” said Sykes. “Joyce is the highlight of Christmas every year.”
Breakout: Joyce Barga would be happy to accept donations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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