Santa For Seniors becomes savior program

Bonnie Bucy • Updated Nov 25, 2013 at 12:46 AM

Home Instead Senior Care has an identifying logo that says, “To Us, It's Personal.”

“Everyone on my staff has a passion for seniors, starting with me,” said Maggie Lea, owner of Home Instead in Mt. Juliet. “When I was 16, I moved into a home with a 90 year-old-lady. She lived another four years, and I loved her and learned so much from her. It was because of her and other seniors I've known that prompted me to get into the business I'm in.”

“My dad died and I moved in with my grandparents,” said Natasha Calhoun, Home Instead's community service advisor and coordinator of its Santa for Senior's program. “I have admired, respected and loved seniors since that time.”

Lea opened her business in Mt. Juliet in 2009. That first year, she did 25 names for the Santa For Seniors program in conjunction with Summit Medical Center and Friendship Christian School.

“One experience I had that first year was with a gentleman I gave a pair of pajamas,” said Lea. “He ended up passing away just before Christmas, but right after we had dispensed the gifts. He was buried in those pajamas, and I have never forgotten him.”

She said Debbie Pare, director of the SCAN program at the Wilson County Sheriff's Office, had given her cards from their staff. She put the cards by her phone where she looked at them for a full year. The following year ,she got into it full force. This year, the Santa for Seniors program through Home Instead has adopted 984 seniors with Gentiva as its corporate partner.

“Every senior we adopt for the program, we visit personally and spend time with,” said Lea. “SCAN gave us 150 names this year, and the names just kept coming in from various sources. I kept saying, ‘that's all right; we can do that.’ Now, we're at 984, and I keep saying, ‘we can do that,’ and we will.”

“We put the trees up with the ornaments listing our adopted names on a Thursday and they were gone by Saturday,” said Sgt. Don Witherspoon, liaison with the Sheriff's Office on the SCAN program. “But, we're adding more names all the time, so we hope those will be taken up, too.”

The senior's first name, along with their three wishes of what they need for Christmas in their order of desired need, are placed on the ornament-shaped tag. Many times, the items shown on the tag can be purchased in the store, where the tag was obtained. Buy the gift, attach the tag to the gift and place it in the store collection area. 

The contribution dates run through Dec. 2, and a community gift-wrapping party the general public is invited to come and help is scheduled for Dec. 12 at 10:30 a.m. The gifts will also be delivered to the seniors Dec. 12.

“We don't just touch the financially dependent; we touch the lonely in addition,” said Lea. “Some of these seniors are totally alone, and all traditional Christmas is gone for them, and we are the only warmth they have left. That's why it's so important to them and why it makes us feel so good to be doing something to make them feel so good.  It's not the pair of tennis shoes they may ask for. It's the company and the love that comes with it.”

A Girl Scout troop was the first to get into the program by offering to color and design shopping bags within in which each gift was delivered. Now, every Girl Scout and Boy Scout in the county are making bags. Needy and lonely seniors in Hermitage, Wilson, Smith and DeKalb counties are benefiting from the program.

“It takes the whole community to do this,” said Lea. “Our numbers of seniors has turned into a Sunami of Seniors in that it's progressing so fast. This can be a difficult time for many, especially those who live alone or have lost spouses and loved ones.”

Statistics show an estimated 27 percent or 10.8 million people aged 65 and older or are widowed, according to the U. S. Census Bureau. Further, the Administration of Aging reports about 28 percent or 11.8 million non-institutionalized people 65 and older live alone. And, those numbers are growing each day.

“We feel it's not only our job to help with this growing problem, but to educate the rest of the public to it,” added Lea. “And we benefit as much if not more than the seniors do because they are so sweet and appreciative of everything we do so we fall in love with each and everyone of them.”

The representatives from Home Instead and the Sheriff's Officer recently told of different cases that had struck them for one reason or another, such as a man who requested a battery-operated light. When asked what it was for, he said it was for his outhouse because the house he was in had no bathroom.

Then, there was the man who lived in a tent in someone's back yard who only wanted dog food for his Christmas present. Why? It was for “his only friend.” They gladly gave him a year's supply of food for his “only friend.”

A man who lived in a trailer, using his gas stove and a fan to heat his space, asked for a heater. The group got him a battery-operated heater and a supply of batteries. Then, there was a lady with Parkinson's disease who asked for a paint set. She had painted in earlier years, but had not been able to for many years. The Santa For Seniors found her a complete paint set, and she's been painting up a storm ever since.

“We'd give anything if we didn't have to hear these touching stories every year, but we do,” said Lea. “Just to see the looks on the faces of the seniors when they receive their gifts and get some attention and you're lost. The problem is just going to increase with each year that goes by and the numbers of seniors increases.”

Councilwoman Kathy Warmack issued a proclamation declaring the “week of Dec. 9-13 through 13t as being Santa To A Senior Week for the city of Lebanon.”

So, through Dec. 2, Be a Santa to a Senior ornament trees will be at Walmart and Walgreen’s locations in Lebanon, as well as at Gentiva Home Health and Hospice; Vista Points, Amedisys Home Health; American National Home Health; Beauty Boutique; attorney Carolyn Christofferson; city attorney Andy Wright; Crystal Couture; Elmcroft Assisted Living; attorney J. Addison Barry; Lebanon Junior Women's Club; Tennessee Sports Medicine; Willis Group; Smithville Family Medical; Community Bank of Carthage; Lebanon Health and Rehab; Life Care of Old Hickory; Pharmacare; Rutland Place; Southern Manor; STAR Physical Therapy; Stewart Title; Tristar Summit Medical Center; the Falls at 109 and U.S. Community Credit Union.

Lori and Paul Hogan founded Home Instead Senior Care in 1994 in Omaha, Neb. The network is the world's largest provider of non-medical in-home care services for seniors, with nearly 1,000 independently owned and operated franchises providing in excess of 45 million hours of care throughout the world.

Local Home Instead offices employ more than 65,000 CAREGivers worldwide who provide basic support services – assistance with activities of daily living, personal care, medication reminders, meal preparation, light housekeeping, errands, incidental transportation and shopping – which enables seniors to live safely in their own homes for as long as possible. In addition, CAREGivers are trained in the network's groundbreaking Alzheimer's Disease or Other Dementias CARE.

For more information on participating in the Santa for Seniors program or volunteering for any of Home Instead's services, contact Lea at 615-553-4297 or email her at maggie.lea@homeinstead.com or Natasha Calhoun at 615-553-4297 or 615-651-3600 or email her at natasha.calhoun@homeinstead.com. Pare may be reached at 615-444-1412, ext. 499 or through email at debbie.pare@yahoo.com.

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