Gift program focuses on senior citizens

snagem@newsobserver.comDecember 17, 2013 

— Lots of programs collect toys and coats so children will have something special under the tree on Christmas.

But senior citizens who live on fixed incomes or don’t have family nearby can also benefit from the kindness of strangers during the holidays. That’s where Be a Santa to a Senior comes in.

The program is part of Home Instead Senior Care, a national company with an office in Raleigh that aims to help senior citizens live at home for as long as possible.

Much like the popular Angel Tree children’s program through the Salvation Army, people can choose a senior citizen’s name from trees at local businesses through Be a Santa to a Senior.

This year, the program is serving 144 seniors in the Cary and Apex area and even more in Raleigh, said Mike Windley, community outreach director for Home Instead Senior Care. Last year, the program served 99 people in the Cary area.

Christmas programs for children are so important, Windley said.

“But oftentimes people don’t think of the seniors in our community,” he said. “They do get lonely.”

About 10 trees were set up at local businesses and also the Cary Senior Center.

On Tuesday, volunteers gathered at the Bond Park Community Center to wrap the donated gifts that would be delivered.

Greta Hervey, 79, of Cary volunteered for the event. She said older people need something to brighten the holidays.

“They need a toy and a gift just as much as the kids,” Hervey said. “They really do – maybe more so.”

Carole Crandall, 74, of Cary agreed. She said she has all she needs for Christmas, but she realizes that some older residents aren’t so fortunate. So she wanted to help.

“It comes to you more than you’re giving out,” Crandall said.

Duke Realty put Be a Santa to a Senior trees in a couple of its buildings. Denise Leubecker, who works for the company, helped collect the gifts.

Both of her parents live in senior-citizen communities, Leubecker said, so she understands the importance of reaching out to older residents.

Through the program, she said, one woman requested only a Christmas card.

“I think it really does (show) the true meaning of Christmas, not just the expensive gifts,” Leubecker said.

Many seniors who take part in the program ask for blankets, clothes and activity books such as crossword puzzles, Windley said.

He hopes the program will continue to grow in western Wake County. The goal is to serve 200 seniors next year.

Throughout the country, the program has distributed more than $1.2 million worth of gifts to more than 700,000 seniors, Windley said.

“It’s just a matter of identifying where they are and who to serve,” he said.

Nagem: 919-460-2605; Twitter: @BySarahNagem

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