Society residents celebrate Christmas as a family in Iowa

With the place all decked out for Christmas, a great deal is stirring at Good Samaritan Society - Heritage Landing in Milford, Iowa.

Upstairs, a very merry resident, Maggie McDaniel, is prepping for a festive party.

“We’re making 'sammiches!'” Maggie jokes. “In the south they would say 'sammiches.' But we’re making sandwiches for the party."

From southwest Georgia, the 82-year-old retired nurse anesthetist moved to the Iowa Great Lakes region to enjoy the seasons and independent living.

“There are two seasons in Georgia, hot and hotter and that’s it,” says Maggie, who visited Spirit Lake often as a kid. “Up here, you’ve got four seasons. When you get tired of one, the other one pops up."

Maggie's party committee includes her "buddy and sidekick Vicky."

Vicky Albertsen, also a retired nurse, works at the Society. Today you could call her one of Maggie’s elves.

“I love her. She’s my dear, dear friend,” Maggie says.

Vicky spent the last six days cooking for the special event.

“It’s called Maggie’s Christmas Party,” Vicky says. “She doesn’t like recognition, but she gets it anyway because she does an amazing job. She goes all out."

'Gather all my friends around'

The third annual gathering started as a way for Maggie to share southern cuisine with her new friends.

"It just snowballed. It’s huge,” Maggie says. “Like I wanted cheese straws from Yazoo, Mississippi. Introduce everybody to pecans from South Georgia. That’s how it started."

An admitted QVC fanatic, she begins stashing scrumptious snacks in October, now from all over the country.

“Can you send me a fruitcake (from Nebraska)? Yes. We’re having two this year. They make chocolate and regular,” Maggie says. “So if it doesn’t do, we’ll eliminate it next year."

Everybody around here knows Maggie loves making people happy.

"You won’t find a kinder person, a more giving person in this world than Maggie,” Vicky says.

Neighbors mean the world when you don't have family nearby.

“I don’t really have any family and Thanksgiving and Christmas get to be hard times for me. I thought, I’ll just gather all my friends around me. That’s all I do. I open that door and go out there and gather my friends around,” Maggie says.

And they really show up.

‘Whole building is a community’

Dressed in their holiday best, every resident in the 28-apartment building comes to celebrate.

“There’s such wonderful people here. Such really nice people,” Maggie says.

Vicky adds “this whole building is a community."

Senior living manager Sally Anderson says active residents like Maggie bring Society locations to life.

“It’s called a community but we’re basically a family,” Sally says. “I call her my Georgia peach. She’s just a gem, she really is."

A gem sharing her light and love this Christmas.

“It’s when you want to pull your family close and tight to you and give thanks for having them and for being here. I’m the luckiest old broad there is to be up here. I just thank God every day that he put me here,” Maggie says.

Many are grateful for her presence too.

“Maggie’s not my friend anymore, she’s my family,” Vicky says. “She keeps us in stitches laughing all the time. We adore her. She’s everything to us."

Basking in the jolly atmosphere as the party comes to a close, Maggie sits by the dining room exit just listening.

“I guess you might call that snooping. I don’t mean it to be, but I just like to hear everybody talking,” Maggie says.

Soaking it all in until the next party. Best believe she’s already planning ahead.

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