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Posted November 25, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Elves for the elderly

For many seniors this year, it's the basics that count

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Their lists for Santa are as simple as they come.

A Wal-Mart gift card, a Food Lion gift card, a gas card that is "desperately" needed -- these are the things that will make this Christmas one to remember for a select number of Shenandoah County seniors. And anyone can be the one to make it happen.

Through the national "Be a Santa to a Senior" program organized by Home Instead Senior Care, which has its regional office in Winchester, a number of stores across the city and Shenandoah, Clarke, Frederick and Warren counties are seeking to make a senior's simple wishes come true this coming holiday season.

While trees adorned with ornaments depicting a senior's first name and what they want for Christmas were to go up at participating stores throughout the region Tuesday, Shenandoah County locations will not have trees up until after Thanksgiving, said Candy McInturff, the jurisdiction's community representative. One of the locations, Shenandoah Sew & Vac, relies on a large posterboard with names in place of the tree.

The business, at 498 N. Main St., had nine names on Tuesday. Countywide, 54 seniors are in the program this year, McInturff said. Throughout the region, there are about 250 names, up from 170 last year, said Debby Rockwell, Home Instead's community service representative.

The program involves people picking an ornament off the tree, or posterboard, and purchasing what the senior wants. The buyer should then return the gift, unwrapped, to the store before Home Instead's gift-wrapping party in Winchester on Dec. 17. The gifts will then be delivered.

The Department of Social Services, Salvation Army and different nonprofit organizations supply Home Instead with names, Rockwell said. To qualify, seniors must be 55 or older and be financially challenged and without family.

"These are people who would not have a Christmas without [this]," Rockwell said. "We want to give back to community members who have given to us and made the community what it is today."

At Sew & Vac, the nine seniors are seeking the Wal-Mart and Food Lion gift cards as well as money for gas. Additionally, the Quilter's Cabin, which is attached to the store, will try to donate a quilt, apron or some other item to each of its seniors.

"I am a senior with a terminal disease. Fortunately, I'm quite blessed," store manager Barb Lambert said. "My heart always goes out to those who are alone or have no joy. To be able to provide a surprise, a smile, some warmth, some joy for seniors is basically why we do it. Because we love them. We love all people."

McInturff said the program involves a lot of seniors helping seniors.

"I've lived here for 43 years," she said, "and I didn't know people lived in such dire straits in Shenandoah County."

The most common gift request this year is a gift card for groceries, Rockwell said. Some popular items in the past have been slippers, lotions and stamps.

"They are just so thankful, so grateful," Rockwell said of the recipients.

Norman Pearce, a clerk at Simple Comforts at Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester, said people are happy to help and have been asking whether the business was going to participate in the program for a second time this year. He said they typically go beyond what seniors list and bring bags of items for them.

"It's just super," he said. "The response has been very good. We're thrilled to do it."

The gift-wrapping event will be Dec. 17 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Woodbrook Village Community Center, at 100 Rosewood Lane, in Winchester. Hand-made cards and decorated grocery bags will be made by after-school programs with area parks and recreation departments, schools and churches, a news release states. Area volunteers, church groups and Boy Scouts will deliver gifts.

"People always think about the children for Christmas," Pearce said. "The seniors need it, too."

For more information on the program and to find tree locations, visit www.beasantatoasenior.com.

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