It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, searching stores for the perfect gift or planning a festive family get-together. But, amidst chaotic schedules and shopping, we often forget those who may not have anyone to share the joy of Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa – many of them elderly and living in Louisville’s nursing homes and assisted-living residences.
One organization, however, is ensuring senior citizens who are either alone or struggling financially experience the reason for the season through the Be a Santa to a Senior program.
Created by Home Instead Senior Care – an American-based multinational network of franchises specializing in non-medical in-home care for the elderly – the initiative has attracted more than 60,000 volunteers in the last six years and helped provide 1.2 million gifts to more than 700,000 seniors throughout North America. The program is hosted by a majority of the 700 Home Instead Senior Care franchises in the U.S. Locally, it’s supported by Baptist Hospital East, Baptist Towers, Rivers Edge, Brownsboro Hills, Colonial House, Day Break at Sacred Heart, Fairington Apartments, Friendship Manor, Highland Rehab, Hillebrand House, KIPDA, MD2U, Portland Plaza, Regency, The Richwood, Springhurst, Walmart and Dr. Kim Pediatric Dentistry.
“We get names of needy seniors throughout the community,” explained Becky Beanblossom, founder and president of the Home Instead Senior Care located off Taylorsville Road. “They have to be over the age of 65 and they have to either be on Medicaid or they have to be socially isolated. … This year we had … right at 1,000 seniors that will be serviced with the program out of our office.”
Home Instead Senior Care collaborates with local businesses and retail stores to help facilitate the purchase and distribution of gifts by placing Christmas trees within their various locations. Each senior’s gift request is written on a Be a Santa to a Senior tree ornament and eventually purchased by a generous shopper, who will bring the ornament and gift to a store employee for delivery.
The program typically begins the first week of November, with gift collection taking place through mid-December. Beanblossom’s Home Instead Senior Care has hosted several gift-wrapping opportunities for individuals looking to volunteer their time to the cause.
“At the end of the program, with the tags we have left, we go back and look to the spreadsheets and say this person needed whatever, and then we go and purchase that gift,” she said. “So, if there’s people who still want to help with the program, they can certainly give us a call, and we can kind of give them last-minute things that don’t come in for folks, and then they can go purchase those.”
Some of the items requested by seniors include pajamas, toiletries, socks, blankets, sweat suits and sweaters. “People tend to ask for practical things,” said Rita Brown, a volunteer who helped giftwrap on Dec. 12 at Home Instead Senior Care. “Sometimes we get requests for laundry detergents. I wrapped a bed pillow and … blankets and a bedspread. These people are not able to go out and shop for themselves, so it’s really nice that other people pitch in.”
Two people who have dedicated much of their time to the program are Bob and Helen Hollingsworth, who’ve helped every year but one with the local Be a Santa to a Senior. “We just enjoy the camaraderie and the social aspect of it … but we just feel like this is a way we can give back to the community,” Bob said. “Sometimes people don’t think of the older people, the older residents, who have difficulty getting out, even shopping. There was one lady who requested things for a child, and this gave her the opportunity of having these things for her grandchild or a niece or a nephew, and I thought that was kind of unique. Usually people want things for themselves, but she was thinking of one of the younger members of her extended family.”
Though gifts are typically delivered by employees of the residences where seniors live, the Be a Santa to a Senior volunteers feel a sense of warmth and compassion, nonetheless, knowing they’ve helped put a smile on someone’s face during the holidays. And, every once in awhile, Home Instead Senior Care will hear back from a recipient who’s grateful for the public’s generosity during a time that may otherwise be difficult for him or her.
“I had a guy who wrote a letter; it was after the program was all over,” Beanblossom said. “We got the letter probably about four weeks after Christmas, and he said that he had participated in our Be a Santa to a Senior program for the last two years. He had been a recipient of a gift, and he said prior to the gift that he got from our program, he hadn’t received one in 11 years.”
The idea was practically unfathomable to Beanblossom, but it quickly made her realize the importance of the program. “That’s why we do it!” she exclaimed. “I’ve had a lot of people that are so touched that the community remembers them at Christmas. When we explain how it works and who purchased the gift for them, they’re like, ‘For me?’ (It’s) like they just can’t believe it; it’s really beautiful. … I tell you, it makes you look at Christmas totally different.”
For more information on the Be a Santa to a Senior program, visit www.beasantatoasenior.com. For more on Home Instead Senior Care, visit www.homeinstead.com or call 502.515.9515.