Each year for the past five years, the Albemarle Commission’s Area Agency on Aging has coordinated a holiday program designed to bring smiles to the faces of scores of elderly homebound residents who live in the 10-county region.
This will be the sixth year the Area Agency on Aging has operated the Santa for Seniors program, says Ashley Lamb, who oversees it.
Under Santa for Seniors, area residents are asked to “adopt” a homebound senior by calling the Agency on Aging. Typically these seniors live alone because they’ve outlived their spouse or siblings and do not have other family or friends who live in the area.
Volunteers will receive information about their adopted senior from Agency on Aging staff to guide them on gift choices. They then go out and shop for their senior.
Afterward, Area Agency of Aging staff collect the gifts, organize them and deliver them to seniors’ homes. In addition to the items noted on each senior’s gift list, AAA staff collect other items like toiletries and candies for gift bags for seniors.
According to Lamb, most of the homebound elderly who benefit from Santa for Seniors also participate in the agency’s Senior Nutrition Program, better known as Meals on Wheels. The program provides participating seniors with a hot meal at least once a day and — because they’re delivered by community volunteers — the smiling face of another human being.
Because the Senior Nutrition Program closes down one week a year during the holidays — from Christmas to New Year’s Day — “some of our seniors may go a week without seeing a friendly face,” Lamb said.
“The seniors we serve will receive shelf-stable meals for the week but the friendly faces of the people who normally deliver meals is what they miss,” she said. “For some that means no visitor, no one to chat with them at the door.”
That’s why the Santa for Senior program is so popular, Lamb says. It brings a gift bag or a boxful of holiday goodies right to the senior’s door.
Jeri Oltman, of Edenton, said she has been volunteering to shop for the Santa for Seniors program since it began. She thought it would be a good way to find gift items for people she doesn’t know. She counts on Lamb and her colleagues to provide her with a list of items seniors have requested. From there, Oltman is ready to go shopping.
“Some of them might ask for jigsaw puzzles, socks or an item that matches their favorite color,” Oltman said. “Last year someone mentioned purple was their favorite color so I included some purple flowers in a vase.”
Oltman said she doesn’t particularly enjoy Christmas shopping for herself. It’s fun, however, to shop for someone who otherwise might not get a gift, she said.
“It gives me a chance to wrap gifts and get in the Christmas spirit,” Oltman said.
Mary Vidaurri, of Herford, also enjoys shopping for seniors at Christmas. She has delivered meals to senior citizens for years, so she knows many can go days or a week without a visitor. She believes this year may be her fourth year participating in Santa for Seniors.
“Christmas can be a lonely time, so it is nice to have someone remember you with a gift,” Vidaurri said. “I don’t see the person who receives the gift but sometimes we see their happy faces later in pictures. I find this rewarding.”
The need for programs like Santa for Seniors is likely to grow. According to Census data, North Carolina continues to be a preferred retirement location. The latest data in fact show 16.7% of the state’s population is now 65 and older.
To volunteer with Santa for Seniors, call 252-404-7088. Donations of the following items are also accepted to create gift bags for seniors: packaged or boxed tissues, hand soap; hand sanitizer, Dove body soap, unscented lotion, individually wrapped candies. Donations may also be dropped off by Dec. 6 at county senior centers or the Albemarle Commission’s offices at 512 S. Church St., Hertford.
For more information about the Santa for Senior program, contact Lamb at 252-404-7088 or email her at email@example.com.