By Kim Walter
After kicking off the Be a Santa to a Senior program more than a week ago, the local Home Instead Senior Care is a bit surprised at the community's response.
"This year's program has already been unbelievable," said Cheryl Strickland, the organization's community service representative. The program's kick-off event was held Nov. 16, and it will run through Dec. 16.
The local office, which serves Winchester as well as Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties, is holding the program for the eighth time. Home Instead Senior Care partners with area retailers and community organizations to make sure isolated seniors receive gifts and interaction around the holiday season.
Christmas trees have been set up in various locations in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, and they feature ornaments with the first names of seniors, as well as their gift requests.
Strickland said the names come through social services after the senior has filled out a release form. The seniors are then given a list of items that they need, and are asked to check off three to five that they would like. There is additional space for write-in requests.
"The number one item that people have asked for is a grocery gift card," Strickland said. "It's kind of sad ... for Christmas, these people really just want to be able to go and buy food."
Although the number of seniors participating in the program is up by 50 from last year, Strickland said that two locations with Christmas trees are already just about out of names.
"People go in the stores and take one, but then they come back wanting to help more seniors," she said. "Seriously, this year has shown a great response, and it really speaks to how much the community supports us."
While Strickland said a cut-off date was set for when names would no longer be taken, she will still accept "floaters" who come in a bit late.
"I don't want anyone to not have a Christmas. I don't want to say no," she said.
All items that seniors ask for through the program are staples, not luxuries, Strickland added. Other common gifts include towels, blankets, and other household items.
"Most people will give a $25 gift card, but every once in a while someone will give one with $100," she said. "Sometimes they'll give nice slippers that you can tell were expensive, which is very nice."
Even though the program is still accepting seniors to benefit from the program, there is an ongoing need for volunteers to deliver the gifts. Strickland asks that each volunteer spend 10 to 15 minutes with the senior, since oftentimes that is one of the only interactions they may have during the holidays.
Some people volunteer to deliver gifts every year, including a Boy Scout troop, but Strickland says she could use more. Even she is part of the distribution from year to year.
"That's my Christmas, the delivering," she said. "I think I get more out of it than the seniors receiving the gifts. They are so thankful for things that we take for granted, and a lot of times, they want you to stay ... just to talk. They need the socialization."
To find a name pick-up location for the Be a Santa to a Senior program, visit a local Walgreens or Kmart. For other locations, visit www.beasantatoasenior.com or call 540-722-8750.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org