Best Christmas gifts for nearly impoverished older family members in New Mexico?
December 5, 2011 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Best Christmas gifts for nearly impoverished older family members (location: northern New Mexico).

My sibs and I (we all live out of state with our own families) have older retired family members who are not doing well financially. Social Security is keeping them afloat, barely, in terms of paying the mortgage. We're not sure how they're paying for food, utilities, and pet care (possibly credit cards). They own their cars outright, thankfully.

For food gifts, I've usually sent them something from Harry & David or Swiss Colony. What are some other options along those lines? (Prefer more on the meat/cheese/crackers/fruit side of things over sweets/baked goods/candy/etc.)

We are also thinking of getting some gift cards for grocery stores -- the national chains that I'm aware of are Albertsons, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's. Are there other food stores in Santa Fe or Albuquerque that we are overlooking? (Also, can gift cards at Albertson's be used to buy lottery tickets? One sibling in particular is concerned that they will spend too much on lottery tickets, if given the chance.)

I've also wondered if there is a way to pay their utilities ahead of time through the winter.

For more "gifty" stuff, they seem to be pretty much OK in terms of clothing, outerware, gloves/scarves, etc., but we're open to suggestions.

Any other thoughts are welcome. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (16 answers total)
According to the online FAQ, Alberton's giftcards cannot be used for lottery tickets.

"Q: What can I purchase with a Albertsons Gift Card?

A: Albertsons Gift Cards can be used for grocery and merchandise purchases in store. They may not be used for online purchases or for services such as stamps, lottery tickets, money orders, MoneyGram® or Western Union®"
posted by insectosaurus at 7:40 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think a grocery store gift care is a really nice idea. To make it more personal, you could make a gift basket with some semi - luxury food items (nice cheeses, a bottle of wine, dried fruit and nuts, some high quality chocolates, etc), and tuck the giftcard into that. That way they would get to enjoy some nice foods and then be free to spend the giftcard on staple, lower-priced items.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:44 PM on December 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Smith's (a division of the huge national chain Kroger) is also that area and hs gift cards that you can purchase online.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:50 PM on December 5, 2011

You could use Amazon's Subscribe & Save feature to set them up with regular deliveries of basically anything you'd get at a grocery store -- from toilet paper and detergent to pet food and people food.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:50 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are two sides to this coin - the first being that they are open to accepting this type of gift, the second being that they could feel offended if they don't feel like they need help. Hopefully, you've already considerd this, but I just wanted to mention it.

I'd try and find out what store(s) they frequent and purchase cards for those chains. Maybe there is a Safeway in their area, but Albertson's is easier to get to and that's where they fill their prescriptions. Many Wal-Mart and Target stores also have grocery sections these days. Plus, a gift card to Target or Wal-Mart could be used to purchase any household items they may need, in addition to groceries.

In my honest opinion, I'd stay away from higher end foodstuffs (Harry & David) and stores (Whole Foods) for the bulk of their food gift. Those things would probably be a welcome treat, but they may appreciate a longer-lived gift. On preview, what insectosaurus said.

If they have prepaid cell phones, I'd include some minutes too, if their phone company offers them in giftcard form.
posted by youngergirl44 at 7:52 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you know how they are for dishes, pots, pans, coffee makers, mixers, etc.? A surprising number of people - even older people - do not have kitchens that serve them well in terms of cooking all their meals there all the time. Also, if they're used to things like Starbucks or eating out, not having that cup of coffee and not having nice linens and glasses that match and stuff is a many-times-a-day reminder of their current situation.

You might also consider buying them a Sam's Club or Costco membership - it depends on how much self-discipline ("let's buy ALL THE CHIPS") they have as to whether it's advantageous or not.
posted by SMPA at 7:53 PM on December 5, 2011

Oops - forgot to mention that you can check with the state lottery regarding what forms of payment their retailers are allowed to accept. On a road trip through Pennsylvania, we were told that you aren't allowed to use a debit or credit card to purchase lottery tickets - only cash. If NM has similar rules, just sending them a Visa gift card might be easier than worrying about where they shop.
posted by youngergirl44 at 7:58 PM on December 5, 2011

We recently moved to Northern New Mexico (Los Alamos). Smith's is the grocery store I see a lot of (here and in Santa Fe, and White Rock too for example) and it has a pharmacy. Also, we're going through a very cold snap right now so heating is on my mind; perhaps heating bill help would be appreciated? At least here in Los Alamos, we pay for heating through the county utilities (all one bill). There are all such tiny towns here (at least to me--coming from Los Angeles) that I bet if you called them up you could pay for someone's bill ahead of time. You can actually speak to a real person and explain the situation. Without ever having done this myself, I have a good feeling that it would work.
posted by rio at 8:06 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pet food would be good--they very well may be sacrificing for the pets--and it's so sad how many pets have had to be given up because their families can no longer afford to keep them. If they live in an area with big box stores, there is probably a Petsmart or Petco that you can give them a gift card for. Include it in a box of treats and toys. If there is a Petsmart with a Banfield Veterinary Clinic in it, you could buy pet health insurance for them--office visits are free, as is an annual physical and shots. Other services are discounted.
posted by elizeh at 8:09 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might also consider buying them a Sam's Club or Costco membership - it depends on how much self-discipline ("let's buy ALL THE CHIPS") they have as to whether it's advantageous or not.

Sam's Club would be better than Costco, as there isn't one of the latter closer than Albuquerque (Sam's is in Santa Fe). Sam's gift cards also work at Wal-Mart, which is a big plus. I also agree that Smith's is the most common grocery store here, though you can find Albertsons in Santa Fe and ABQ.

I agree that you might have luck pre-paying their utilities if they're with a smaller provider; however, PNM and NM Gas are statewide companies, and a lot of people are on one, the other, or both. Note that the latter has a low-income heating assistance program -- if they're on NM Gas they should sign up for this next year. Keep in mind that lot of people in the northern part of the state heat their homes with wood stoves; if that's what your relatives have, a cord of wood might be a fantastic winter gift. Santa Fe Firewood & Landscaping claims to deliver.
posted by vorfeed at 10:58 PM on December 5, 2011

Skip the fancy gift baskets unless you know for sure they like them. Just give cash or grocery cards, and let them decide what to do with it. As for utilities, the state and power company probably already have programs to assist the poor in winter.

Another option (if they are willing) might be a consultation with an elder law attorney to make sure they are getting all possible benefits.
posted by yarly at 5:06 AM on December 6, 2011

To clarify - the most useful thing to poor people is straight cash. That gives them the ability to put the money where they most need it. For example, you may think you are being helpful with a Costco membership and gift card, but maybe Costco is so far away that it uses excess gas, or they don't have the physical ability to drive that far and load up the bulk packages, etc. Just send them a card with as big a cash gift you can manage, and they will be thrilled.

If you are still worried they will misspend cash, then have a frank talk with them and ask what kind of gift card would be best.

Old people on fixed incomes appreciate the security of regular cash support a lot more than the surprise or luxury or a fancy gift, IME. Usually the fancy gift just serves to make the giver feel better about the dire situation.
posted by yarly at 5:13 AM on December 6, 2011

Gifts I have given in similar situations: pre-loaded grocery store cards, gas cards, gift certs. to restaurants (low income often = no $ to treat oneself to extra nice things like that). I'm not clear on how a Costco card would help if by referring to "card" we mean "membership card". Bulk items can be a great value but if a person doesn't already have a lot of cash available, paying for the jumbo everythings is inaccessable and the thoughtful membership will go unused. I've purchased pantry fillers and personal care products (soups, pasta, nut butters, baking/cooking supplies, tissues, bulk paper towels, TP, etc.). I did attempt to pay utilities once but was told by said local utility provider that nobody but the account holder could make payments on the account. Totally weird, I thought. YMMV. I've helped pay telephone bills, too.

Cash gifts have not proved to be a good idea for one of my senior family members who has some impulse control issues. Again, YMMV.
posted by mcbeth at 6:18 AM on December 6, 2011

I would not give them straight cash. I lived in NNM (Santa Fe) for almost 9 years. For a time I worked at a local bank and saw a lot of people bring in their pay checks and social security checks, cash them and go straight to the casinos and lose it all. Unless you know the cash won't be spent in the wrong way, I suggest you buy grocery gift cards - Albertson's, Smith's, Trader Joe's. Winters were pretty cold in Santa Fe and heating my little casita was expensive (I had electric heat), perhaps a few chords of firewood, or paying the PNM heating bill would be good for them. I also like the idea of getting them pet food. Santa Fe has both a PetSmart and a Pet Co., so maybe a gift card for either of those two places would be good too. Message me if you want more recommendations for Santa Fe specific places.
posted by ATX Peanut at 7:11 AM on December 6, 2011

I would not give them straight cash.

Well, if somebody would rather spend $150 on slot machines than recieve a basket full of summer sausage and mustard, is that really so wrong? The problem here is that you're mixing up the idea of a gift with the idea of financial support. If you want to give them meaningful financial support, then you need to consider all the angles. But if you merely want to give them a gift, then the fact that they spend the couple of hundreds of bucks on a casino is really none of your business. Entertainment is as fun for the poor as for the rich, and I don't see any reason to judge their chosen form.
posted by yarly at 7:21 AM on December 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

We "help out" my husbands Grandparents each Christmas by sending them gift cards. We usually get a cross selection up to a hundred dollars. So say a walmart card and a card to their fav. Restaurant (Bob Evans apparently so go figure) This way we figure we are giving them a night out which when you are broke you just can't afford to do and a chance to get something they need for themselves.

The amounts and cards vary depending on our financial position but I know when I was broke and single the gift cards my Family would give me were the best help of all as I could go buy some winter clothes or pay for food that week so I could use that money for bills instead. Now yes they might spend the money on lottery tickets but you can always just give them a card to a restaurant or store that doesn't sell tickets. If they had sent me a food basket I'd have thought how nice I really like salami and cheese, but I really need bread, milk and dog food. If you know their zipcodes a quick website search would let you know if they have the stores you are buying cards for in their areas.
posted by wwax at 10:27 AM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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