‘He was the saving grace’: Man’s national nonprofit that buys Christmas gifts for nursing home residents expands to Spokane

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Nicholas Newell was born with a gift for fundraising.

As a kid in Clarkston, he regularly received the top prize for raising the most in school donation drives, he said. When he reached adulthood, this skill followed and he was driven to create the St. Nicholas Christmas Foundation.

The North Carolina-based nonprofit buys gifts from a wish list for assisted living patients who spend Christmas alone. For the first time, it extends to Spokane.

“I always say that with a birthday on December 25 and a name like Nicholas, there’s no choice but to be happy,” Newell said.

Eleven months out of the year, Newell works full-time in North Carolina as a real estate agent. Since filing as a nonprofit four years ago, Newell said he’s been able to spend his December months putting everything on the resident list.

Now that the Saint Nicholas Foundation has a presence in most of North Carolina and five other states, it serves more people than ever, Newell said.

“It’s not just about meeting the need, it’s about trying to give them a Christmas. It’s to show them that there are people who care about you,” Newell said.

Pamela Newell, Nicholas’s mother and regional director of the foundation in Washington/Idaho, said her son has started projects like this before.

At the time, these were smaller-scale projects. Nicholas Newell took to social media to ask people to consider donating, she said. He later borrowed a friend’s truck to deliver toys to fire crews, who use them in situations involving children, she said.

But her passion for gifts started even further, when Pamela Newell took her two young children on volunteer missions to nursing homes in Clarkston.

“I’ve always tried to let them know, there’s always people who aren’t as well off as you are,” she said. “I raised my kids as a single mum, so believe me, we weren’t wealthy growing up, but I wanted them to know that Christmas was so much more than presents and Santa Claus. There was so much more. It really is a family matter and if you can help someone, you should.

Nicholas Newell said their donations grew “exponentially” after it registered as a nonprofit. In the first few years, they saw annual donations of $500, then $1,500. This year, they raised $25,000 in cash and $5,000 in donations.

In December 2020, NBC’s “Today” featured Nicholas Newell, during which the producers presented Nicholas Newell with a $10,000 donation check. A fundraiser organized by Nicholas Newell and hosted on Facebook raised $5,020 in 12 days with three days remaining.

“I think I have this duty or obligation with my name being Nicholas and my birthday being Christmas… If it were up to me, no one would know who I am,” he said. “But every time someone talks about what we do, it gives us the opportunity to help more people. It (advertising) comes with the territory.

The foundation asks care homes to get wish lists from their residents, and then volunteers do all the shopping to get exactly what the residents want. Pamela Newell said they also collect information about the patient’s personality so that when he asks for a t-shirt, it’s not just any t-shirt.

“A lot of the items people ask for are just basic necessities like socks, t-shirts and pajamas,” Pamela Newell said. “I love it when they ask for something like coloring books or CDs or a radio. Their personalities really come out.

They work with businesses in the city they organize, Nicholas Newell said. In Spokane, the drop trees are parked at the Tesla dealership on Aero Road. The foundation has also partnered with Signatures Salon on Francis Avenue and Coldwell Banker Tomlinson on South Hill.

This year, Spokane’s Cherrywood Place Retirement & Assisted Living will be the recipient of the gift drive, said Heather Graham, the facility’s life enrichment coordinator.

“Every year it’s like, what are we going to get our residents for Christmas? We were discussing this right when Nicholas called us,” Graham said. “He was saving grace.”

Some Cherrywood residents no longer have living relatives who can visit them during the holidays, Graham said. This isolation can be particularly difficult during a period that emphasizes family time.

Graham said they plan to give residents their St. Nicholas Christmas Foundation gifts at Christmas lunch on Friday.

“We are extremely grateful that our residents are able to have this opportunity which otherwise might not have happened,” said Graham.

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