More than 1,000 local seniors will have a merrier Christmas this year thanks to the efforts of the Home Instead Senior Care network leading the "Be a Santa to a Senior" campaign. Friday morning at CedarStone Bank on West Main Street, the first Christmas tree for the program went up.
Once again, Home Instead is teaming up with nonprofit agencies and area retailers to sponsor Be a Santa to a Senior – a program that collects, wraps and delivers gifts to lonely and needy seniors in Hermitage and Wilson and Smith counties.
Holiday shoppers are asked to pick up an ornament off the Be a Santa to a Senior Christmas trees that are located all over the county, buy items on the list and return them unwrapped to the store, along with the ornament attached. The Home Instead Senior Care office will then enlist the volunteer help of its staff, senior-care business associates, non-profit workers and others to collect, wrap and distribute the gifts.
Maggie Julian is the owner of the Home Instead Senior Care.
“Seniors faced with medical bills and the high cost of living can find they have little left at the end of the year,” said Julian. “That’s not the only issue, though. Personal needs may become magnified for so many living alone with no one to share their problems. Usually we're up by now, but with the election we had to wait. We need the days to get 1,100 seniors selected, but we were not going to compete with the election.”
Given that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9 percent of U.S. seniors 65 and older are living in poverty, it's not surprising people are already asking for names of seniors.
"We're already getting calls," Julian said. "CedarStone has had three people asking when they can get names to shop for."
She told the heartbreaking story of one senior who requested and received new pajamas from the program. He got them and died not long after.
"He was buried in those pajamas," Julian said, illustrating how precious these simple gifts are to the elderly who are alone and have very little.
In addition to CedarStone Bank officials, Home Instead is also relying on area businesses and retailers, volunteers and members of the community to help the local Home Instead office collect and distribute gifts to seniors who might otherwise spend the holiday alone.
"We have 48 different partners this year, including all the Girl Scouts in Wilson County, students at Friendship Christian School and at Castle Heights Elementary who are decorating the gift bags this year," she said.
The program gets the requests from seniors for things they really need. The requests usually range from toiletries, blankets and even dog food. A lot of seniors don't have family near by, so their dogs are their only companion, and they sometimes have to choose between medicine and their dogs. Others requested baby dolls and toys for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Every effort is made to fulfill every request.
Julian said many older adults continue to struggle along with the economy, particularly those who live alone with no family nearby to help. She also noted that seniors have lost almost one-third (32 percent) of their buying power since 2000. With statistics like that, it's no wonder so many seniors need a bit of help, especially during the holiday season.
The Be a Santa to a Senior program kicked off Friday when the first names were placed on the tree at CedarStone Bank. The drive will run through Dec. 13 with the gift wrapping party. The Christmas trees that are going up around the area will feature ornaments with the first names of the seniors and their respective gift requests.
One new twist this year is that seniors will join the children at the wrapping party, and the hand decorated bags left over from last year are being sold for $1 to raise money to help more seniors have a Merry Christmas.
Another group that really benefits from the program is the Senior Citizens Awareness Network, run through the Wilson County Sheriff's Department.
"This is a way to to give a very personal touch for those seniors who are isolated," said SCAN Director Debbie Pare.
Sgt. Don Witherspoon, who helps Pare run SCAN said the program is a great complement to what SCAN does for seniors in need during the holidays.
"We ask them to name three things they'd like to have, and they always ask from little things. Nobody ever asks for a washer and dryer," he said. "Maggie has been awesome; they always get what they ask for."
Lynn Elder with Elmcroft Assisted Living said she encountered a woman who benefitted for the program in the past who is in a place where she is able to help others this year. She bought some of the $1 hand decorated gift bags.
"She said 'Last year I wasn't going to have a Christmas. This year I can help another person.' It blessed her," Elder said.
CedarStone Assistant Vice President Lisa Brown is the chairperson of the Be a Santa to a Senior campaign.
"We've had a partnership with Maggie for the past four Christmases," Brown said. "We have a tree at all three of our locations, and Home Safe always has to replenish our trees with more names."
With that Julian, CedarStone employees and the SCAN folks converged around the lighted tree in the bank lobby and covered it with paper ornaments bearing the names of local seniors.
“I get so excited," Julian said as the group around the tree applauded. "Thank you all, because of you guys it can happen."
For more information about the program, visit www.beasantatoasenior.com or call 615-553-4297.
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 444-3952, ext. 45 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.