'He was the saving grace': Man's nationwide nonprofit that buys Christmas gifts for nursing home residents is expanding to Spokane

<p><p>Nicholas Newell was born with a knack for fundraising. </p></p><p><p>As a kid in Clarkston, he regularly got the top prize for raising the most during school donation drives, he said. When he reached adulthood, that skill followed and he was driven to create the Saint Nicholas Christmas Foundation.</p></p><p><p>The North Carolina-based nonprofit buys gifts off a wish list for patients in assisted living facilities who spend Christmas alone. For the first time, it is expanding to Spokane.</p></p><p><p>“I always say with a birthday that’s on Dec. 25 and a name like Nicholas, there’s no choice but to be jolly,” Newell said.</p></p><p><p>Eleven months out of the year, Newell works full time in North Carolina as a real estate agent. Since filing as a nonprofit organization four years ago, Newell said he’s been able to dedicate his Decembers to getting everything on a resident’s list.</p></p><p><p>Now that the Saint Nicholas foundation is in most of North Carolina and five other states, they’re serving more people than ever, Newell said.</p></p><p><p>“It’s not just about fulfilling the need, it’s about trying to give them a Christmas. It’s to show them there are people who are thinking about you,” Newell said.</p></p><p><p>Pamela Newell, Nicholas’ mom and the foundation’s Washington/Idaho regional director, said her son has started projects like this one before.</p></p><p><p>Back then, they were smaller-scale projects. Nicholas Newell went to social media to ask people to consider donating gifts, she said. Later, he borrowed a friend’s truck to deliver toys to fire rescue teams, who use them in situations that involve children, she said.</p></p><p><p>But his passion for gift-giving began even further back, when Pamela Newell took her two young children on volunteer missions to nursing homes in Clarkston.</p></p><p><p>“I always tried to let them know, there are always people who are not as well-off as you,” she said. “I raised my kids as a single mom, so trust me, we were not wealthy growing up, but I wanted them to know Christmas was so much more than presents and Santa Claus. There was so much more to it. It’s really about family and that if you can help someone, you should.”</p></p><p><p>Nicholas Newell said their donations increased “exponentially” after he registered as a nonprofit. In the first years, they saw annual donations of $500, then $1,500. This year, they collected $25,000 in cash and $5,000 in gift donations.</p></p><p><p>In December 2020, NBC’s “Today” featured Nicholas Newell, during which the producers handed Nicholas Newell a $10,000 donation check. A fundraiser by Nicholas Newell that was hosted on Facebook raised $5,020 in 12 days with three days left.</p></p><p><p>“I think I have this duty or this obligation with my name being Nicholas and my birthday being on Christmas … If it was up to me, no one would know who I am,” he said. “But every time someone talks about what we do, it gives us an opportunity to help more people. It (publicity) comes with the territory.”</p></p><p><p>The foundation asks nursing homes to get wish lists from their residents, and then volunteers do all of the shopping to get exactly what the residents want. Pamela Newell said they also gather information about the patient’s personality so that when they ask for a T-shirt, it’s not just any T-shirt.</p></p><p><p>“A lot of the items people are asking 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.”</p></p><p><p>They work with businesses in whatever city they organize, Nicholas Newell said. In Spokane, the drop-off trees are stationed at the Tesla dealership on Aero Road. The foundation also partnered with Signatures Salon on Francis Avenue and Coldwell Banker Tomlinson on the South Hill.</p></p><p><p>This year, Spokane’s Cherrywood Place Retirement &amp; Assisted Living will be the recipients of the gift drive, said Heather Graham, the facility’s life enrichment coordinator.</p></p><p><p>“Every year, it’s like, what are we going to get our residents for Christmas? We were actually discussing that right when Nicholas called us,” Graham said. “He was the saving grace.”</p></p><p><p>Some residents at Cherrywood no longer have living relatives who can visit them during the holidays, Graham said. This isolation can be especially tough during a time that emphasizes time with family.</p></p><p><p>Graham said they planned on giving the residents their gifts from the Saint Nicholas Christmas Foundation during the Christmas lunch on Friday.</p></p><p><p>“We’re extremely thankful our residents can have this opportunity that otherwise might not have happened,” Graham said.</p></p>