Being Santas for seniors

AUSTINTOWN — For many seniors, the holidays can be lonely. Limited mobility, living alone or in a nursing home, and financial stresses are some of the issues that the older population faces. According to the Administration on Aging, one of every eight Americans is older than 65. About 28 percent of that group lives alone, according to the federal agency.

That, said Dottie Johntony, general manager of Home Instead Senior Care in Austintown, is why Omaha-based Home Instead is sponsoring its 13th annual Be a Santa to a Senior program.

“Some of our area’s elderly are so lonely or isolated. A lot of them have outlived their friends and families,” Johntony said.

“It is the sheer joy of seeing someone so surprised that they were actually remembered and got a gift.”

Co-sponsors of the Trumbull and Mahoning counties effort include the Guardian Angels of Trumbull County Common Pleas Probate Court, Catholic Charities, Warren AHEPA, Warren SCOPE senior center and various local nursing homes.

The collection runs through Dec. 9 at area stores and businesses.

Christmas shoppers pick a paper ornament from Be a Santa to a Senior trees at the participating businesses. Each ornament is enscribed with the first name of a senior and lists that person’s desired gifts.

Shoppers buy requested gifts and return them, unwrapped, to the store with the ornament attached. Volunteers and program partners will wrap and deliver the gifts.

When the collection ends, Home Instead tallies all the returned gifts. For those whose name never got returned, “We make gifts for them out of local donations we have received,” Johntony said.

The agency plans an all-day wrapping party Dec. 13.

“We wrap every gift, no matter what,” she said.

“We have 793 names of local senior citizens this year, with an average of three gifts each. That’s a lot to wrap in one day.”

Anyone interested in joining in the wrapping festivities are encouraged to call The Home Instead office, 330-729-1233.

“We are not picky. If they can come for only an hour, that’s fine. We will take anything. We will also make sure they have something to eat from generous donations from local restaurants,” Johntony said.

After the wrap party, the office staff then sorts the gifts by location. They deliver them back to co-sponsors in those locations to be be delivered by volunteers.

“We used to hand-deliver all the gifts ourselves. Over the last few years, it grew so big that we can no longer manage that part.

“It is up to our local groups that give us the names to deliver the gifts back to the recipient.”

Except they do hold back a few gifts to deliver themselves.

“Giving a gift to an unsuspecting senior, seeing their face and hearing their reaction is why we do this,” Johntony said.

Carol Hitchcock, owner of the Home Instead Austintown office, said, “The program provides a ray of hope for many seniors, and it means so much for them to know that people care and value them as members of our community.

“Be a Santa to a Senior provides a much-needed boost for seniors who may be isolated, not just through gifts, but through interaction and companionship,” Hitchcock said. “We’re so grateful to have a community that comes together to show our local seniors they are not alone during the holidays.”