THIS is the time for holiday boutiques. All over the Bay Area, shoppers can choose from an imaginative array of skillfully handcrafted items for gifts or household decorations ranging in price from $1 to hundreds of dollars and more. Some of these shows attract huge crowds. One of the best such fairs, a juried event of world-class artisans, happens next weekend in San Francisco at Eighth and Brannan streets to benefit FM radio station KPFA.

But a smaller holiday boutique in Colma, today through Sunday, offers a special attraction. The items for sale are handcrafted by several residents of Home Sweet Home Senior Care, an assisted-living facility, and their families.

Proceeds will benefit two important organizations: Family Caregiver Alliance and The American Heart Association/Stroke Division.

For the past several months, residents and volunteering family members have met twice a week to plan, assemble materials, design items and cut, paste, draw, assemble, organize and fill baskets.

"The residents love it," said Cathy Borchelt of San Francisco, volunteer coordinator. "They look forward to our meetings. They wait at the door to come in and participate. And those who can't participate, love to watch and enjoy."

Researchers have found that many Americans, whether at home or in residential facilities, experience depression and a sense of isolation as they age.

Friends have died, job obligations are over, and social networks may have frayed. But, these same experts agree, antidotes to depression include keeping socially engaged and as physically active as possible.

"Late-life depression is often found to be situational," said San Carlos-based geriatrician Elizabeth Landsverk, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at UCSF and physician at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Nursing Home. "The depression often lifts when you change the situation."

The Colma boutique started five years ago when a Home Sweet Home director wanted to increase residents' activity and connection to the community. The project has grown each year.

"Everybody gets excited, especially as the day approaches," facility owner Yelka Matijas said. "Those who can't participate, due to physical limitations, cheer the others on."

On a recent weekend, some volunteers and residents took their wares to a holiday sale at nearby Doelger Senior Center in Daly City.

"That was a big hit," Borchelt said. "One of our residents used to work at Doelger, so she got a chance to say 'hi' to her buddies."

Borchelt said she recognized the importance of family involvement while her father was a resident in the Home Sweet Home Alzheimer's facility in Daly City. After his death, she started volunteering in Colma and helped organize events.

"It's a great idea to have residents and family involved," Dr. Landsverk said of the boutique project. "Everybody has something to talk about and something in common."

Among the items for sale this weekend will be holiday wreaths, toy soldiers, reindeer and other toys made of papier-mache, corks and other materials, Christmas baskets filled with toys, and organic bath salts and beauty products with ingredients ground by residents.

Boutique hours are from noon to 8 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 205 Collins Ave., Colma. All purchases are tax deductible. For information, call 992-0868 or visit http://www.hshseniorcare.com.

COMPUTER CLASSES FOR SENIORS OFFERED IN SAN MATEO — The SeniorNet Computer Learning Center at the San Mateo Senior Center offers classes for people older than 50 in computer basics, including word processing, e-mail and the Internet, and advanced techniques. Three-hour classes run once a week at $25 for a five-week session for SeniorNet members. Nonmembers pay an additional $40 fee to join. For information, check the schedule at http://www.ci.sanmateo.ca.us/seniornet/, visit San Mateo Senior Center, 2645 Alameda de las Pulgas, during an open lab from 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays, or call the Center. 

CHRISTMAS TREE DECORATION PARTY IN PACIFICA — Pacifica Community/Senior Center invites everyone to a Christmas tree decorating party from 11 a.m. to noon Monday at the Center, 540 Crespi Drive at Highway 1, with refreshments and music. A highlight will be a demonstration by Center Supervisor Jim Lange of ways to make table decorations and garnish holiday food with vegetables and fruit. For information, call 738-7384.

VOLUNTEER FOR REDWOOD CITY GIVING PROJECT — The Veterans Memorial Senior Center invites volunteers to participate in its annual Holiday Giving Project from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday. Volunteers will help fill and prepare gift bags for the elderly who are homebound and for children in need. To participate, contact Senior Services, 780-7274.

Donations can be mailed to Holiday Giving Project, Veterans Memorial Senior Center. 1455 Madison Ave., Redwood City.

LEARN HOW TO MAKE THE HOLIDAYS MORE ENJOYABLE — Share your favorite holiday stories, and learn helpful tips to make your holidays more enjoyable at a free talk on "The Holidays," at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Goldstar Room at Veterans Memorial Senior Center, 1455 Madison Ave., Redwood City. For information, call the center.

ESTELLE KELLEY TROUPE TO PERFORM THURSDAY — Local singers and dancers from Estelle Kelley's popular troupe of performers will sing and dance at the free, annual holiday kickoff at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at Pacifica Community/Senior Center, 540 Crespi Drive. For information, call the Center.

Senior Journal appears every Friday. To submit items to Joan Aragone, call 348-4332 or write to Senior Journal, San Mateo County Times, P.O. Box 5400, San Mateo, CA 94402. You can e-mail items to fogbelt2@aol.com.