Santa Claus is a pretty popular character to young kids around the world, but even our community’s older members deserve some Santa magic on Christmas morning. Enter—Be a Santa to a Senior program, run by Home Instead Senior Care. “We are the developers, coordinators, elves and Santa,” says John Stuck, a representative of the program. “We work with area nonprofits, senior living facilities and low-income senior housing areas to get names and gift requests of the seniors in need.”
The program creates Christmas ornaments that include the name and gift idea for each senior. These are placed on trees throughout several Lunds & Byerlys locations and other venues, where community members can pick one, buy a gift and bring it back to the tree. Volunteers collect, organize and wrap the goodies for distribution. Several area fire departments and volunteers distribute the gifts to seniors in time for the holidays. “Our Be a Santa to a Senior program actually covers a wide area of seniors in the Northwest Metro area,” Stuck says. “Last year, we distributed over 2,000 gifts and gift bags to seniors in need in Minneapolis and the western suburbs.”
The gifts requested from seniors are typically necessities like socks, gloves, blankets and toiletries. “Things we take for granted,” Stuck says. “You can’t imagine the requests we receive. They are honestly the most modest items you could think of, but the great thing that we see in our community is that the donors always want to do more. They always provide more than what is requested.” He describes a particular volunteer, who picks 10 ornaments from the tree and fills the requests with the addition of blankets, treats and other special items.
While the program provides seniors with presents, it’s also a reminder to them that their community cares and thinks about them. According to a survey conducted by AARP, 35 percent of adults ages 45+ categorize themselves as lonely, and this feeling is often compounded during the holiday season.
“The Be a Santa to a Senior program is so many things to so many people. It’s a community coming together to show support and love for their low-income and lonely seniors,” Stuck says. “It’s a reminder to those that volunteer that our aging community members need to be remembered and acknowledged, especially during such a busy and joyful time of year. Many of these seniors will not even receive visitors during the holidays, and this means a lot to them.”
The volunteers also feel the impact of the program. Stuck describes delivering a gift with his son to a woman, who was alone during the holidays.
“She was really just excited for the visit, but, while we were there, she opened the gift and was admiring everything in it—a beautiful knitted sweater, books, snacks,” Stuck says. “We’re getting ready to leave, she turns to us and asked, ‘Do I get to keep all of this?’ It broke my heart that she really couldn’t believe that a simple package of a few items was brought there just for her … to keep. When we left, my son said, 'Dad, I don’t think I need anything for Christmas.’ I mean, the impact her story had on my 8-year-old; that’s the kind of impact we are trying to share [to inspire the community to think about seniors in need.]”
To find a tree location near you, visit beasantatoasenior.com or call 763.544.5988.