Wednesday is the last day that gifts can be collected for the Be a Santa to a Senior program, but there’s still lots of work to do before now and Christmas.
The annual program, hosted by Home Instead Senior Care, brings gifts to senior citizens for the holiday season — a large segment of the population that is many times left out when it comes to Christmas.
“There are a lot of charities out there for the kids, and Christmas is for the kids, but far too often, so many are forgotten,” said Cathleene Tokish, owner of Sweet Darling Quilts on Wesley Chapel Boulevard, who hosted one of the gift-giving trees. “When I do my spreadsheet, I cry, because they ask for so little.”
Tokish’s store is one of the only non-chain stores participating in the program, run locally by Home Instead franchise owners Lynelle Bonneville and mother Michele Bonneville. Yet, she is one of the highest-producing, with many of her customers asking about what they should get for the nursing home residents as early as September.
Christmas trees go up in November at the Be a Santa to a Senior collection sites, with ornaments available displaying the wish list of an individual resident of facilities like the Edwinola Retirement Community and Heritage Park in Dade City, as well as the West Winds Assisted Living Facility in Zephyrhills.
Some of the ornaments handed out at Tokish’s store included a pack of cards, a package of batteries, and one that asked for just one snack.
“Once they hit the nursing home level, Medicaid only gives them $35 a month to spend on incidentals,” Michele Bonneville said. “And that’s why just the little things matter so much for them.”
And when someone gets an ornament with a request of something like just one snack, they usually come back with so much more, the Bonnevilles said. Usually, they’re filling an entire gift bag.
This year, the local Home Instead franchise hopes to hand out 1,000 wrapped gifts to senior citizens in assisted living facilities on Dec. 21. While nearly all the donations are provided unwrapped, volunteers will get together Dec. 20 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the home office of Home Instead, 29149 Chapel Park Drive in Wesley Chapel, to wrap gifts.
Home Instead’s clientele are typically still living in their own houses and apartments, and are usually doing what they can to stay out of an assisted living facility as long as possible. But the program targets those who are no longer in their own homes, and many times missing the companionship and family so many others take for granted on the holidays.
“When you take gifts to them and see their eyes light up, it can be very special,” Michele Bonneville said. “There are people who haven’t spoken in a month who will suddenly get so excited, and they will start talking.”
Be a Santa to a Senior is a nationwide program through Home Instead that has attracted more than 60,000 volunteers, and provided 1.2 million gifts to 700,000 senior citizens over the last six years, according to the organization’s website.
Collection sites were set up around the area, including the Florida Medical Clinic Foundation, T.J. Maxx, Bealls Outlet, the Pasco County Tax Collector’s office, and Village Inn restaurant in Land O’ Lakes.
For more information on how to volunteer or donate, visit BeASantaToASenior.com, or call (813) 991-7524.
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