‘Be a Santa’ program inspires generosity

Bobby Thompson, manager at Walgreens at 645 E. Jubal Early Drive, Winchester, looks at a tag on a Christmas tree set up at the store recently. Those wishing to purchase gifts for an area senior can still find tags inscribed with requested information at Walgreens, Diane's Diner at 2235 Valor Drive in Winchester, or at the Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department in Berryville. Donations should be returned to the location of the host tree. Josette Keelor/Daily

Christmas is still three weeks away, but Home Instead Senior Care’s Be a Santa to a Senior campaign is already a success.

Now in its 11th year, the program asks community members to adopt an area senior in need, by taking paper ornaments from Christmas trees at participating area businesses and government facilities. Written on the ornaments are needed items, like hats and scarves, gift cards, paper products and food.

In Shenandoah County, more than 100 ornaments representing area seniors have already been adopted from trees, said Kandi McInturff, community service representative for Home Instead’s Shenandoah region. She expected the remaining four names to be snatched up within a few days.

“We had people asking for names this year in September. We had organizations wanting names in October,” McInturff said.

“It took me some doings to get them, but I’m telling you I’ve never seen anything like it. I haven’t even been able to keep up.”

“It’s a wonderful problem to have,” she said.

In Winchester, where the need of area seniors is greater, a tree at Walgreens on East Jubal Early Drive has been decorated three times with new paper ornaments to replace the ones already taken, and in Warren County all names have been adopted, said Cheryl Strickland, community service representative for the area of Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Clarke and Warren.

“We’re really happy the way it started out,” Strickland said. “I think everybody started their Christmas shopping a little bit early this year.”

McInturff, who has been with the program for eight years, has seen it grow both in the number of senior participants and in volunteers.

“On one hand it breaks your heart, on another hand it’s an amazing program,” she said.

A happy surprise came when seniors recommended by Social Services in previous years started recommending their friends or neighbors this year, instead of themselves.

“I thought that was really cool, that they were giving us names,” McInturff said.

With deliveries planned for the week before Christmas, McInturff and Strickland said they still need donations in some areas and volunteers to help make deliveries.

Trees at Walgreens at 645 E. Jubal Early Drive in Winchester, and at Diane’s Diner at 2235 Valor Drive in Winchester and the Clarke County Parks and Recreation Department at 255 Al Smith Circle in Berryville still have ornaments available.

New items still needed include blankets, socks, pajamas and other winter clothes, grocery store gift cards and toiletries such as soap and tissues.

Donations should be returned unwrapped to the location hosting each Christmas tree. Residents interested in volunteering in other capacities should call Home Instead Senior Care at 540-722-8750.

“That’s a big job delivering all the gifts,” Strickland said. “… It’s the biggest community outreach program that we do.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com