By Ed Pierce
Christmas wishes can come true, no matter how old you are, and an annual program sponsored by Home Instead of Gorham intends to bring cheer and a smile to older local residents this holiday season in Windham and Raymond.
Relying on volunteers and the generous support of the community, the Senior Santa Program has set up “Be A Santa To A Senior” trees at participating locations which runs from now through Dec. 7. Trees are decorated with ornaments featuring seniors’ first names and gift suggestions. Holiday shoppers choose an ornament, purchase the requested presents and return them unwrapped in a holiday gift bag to the tree location with the ornament tag attached.
Local tree locations include Chute’s Family Restaurant, 686 Roosevelt Trail in Windham and at Blue Seal Feeds, 43 Main St. in Windham.
According to Kathy Damon, a home care consultant for Home Instead, the program served more than 600 seniors in Cumberland County last year and works with 20 different nonprofits and senior agencies in developing a list of deserving seniors to be given gifts.
Volunteers pair up with police officers to deliver the gifts and that experience is very moving, Damon said.
“For me, the best part of doing this comes in delivering the gifts,” Damon said. “To hear the appreciation is just wonderful.”
This year the Senior Santa Program is even more vital to the wellbeing of area elderly because of the pandemic.
“Seniors are especially at risk for the feelings of isolation that we’ve all felt at some point during the pandemic, and a simple gift can show them that they have been thought of, which is more important this year than ever,” said Bill Jenks, owner of the Gorham Home Instead office.
Joanne Gerritty of Windham works for Home Instead and said she is happy to participate in such a worthwhile program.
“Most of these elderly people have no family or are financially strapped,” she said. “Usually what the elderly person ranges in needs from food to a warm pair of socks to winter coat and boots. At Home Instead we make sure all requests are fulfilled.”
Each year after the gifts have been delivered, Home Instead receives thank you notes from recipients and senior caregivers who are grateful for the gifts.
“I’m blown away each year at the generosity and incredible work you put into this project. The thoughtfulness and heart that goes into buying gifts for our residents is unreal and we are forever grateful,” wrote Sarah Nute, Director of Life Enrichment at Portland’s Barron Center last year. “One of our residents cried after opening his gifts, he was so surprised someone would think of him. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Gift items typically run from magnifying glasses to hand-held grabbers, warm socks, winter coats and boots, large Christmas bags and tissue paper, Christmas treats, lap blankets, puzzles of different strengths, large-print puzzle books, reading glasses, stamps, to gift cards from Hannaford, Bull Moose, Walmart and other stores, Damon said.
The program is open to all seniors in Cumberland County, although they need to be referred through an agency such as Windham’s Ledgewood Manor.
“I have pulled three tags to fill, also during the year I will buy different items that I know we usually run short of, I put in many hours delivery the tags, going through the list to make sure right sizes and items are in the bags and to make sure that there are treats in the bag from candy or cookies,” Gerritty said.
Damon said the logistics of matching the right gifts to the right seniors can be challenging every year, but the Senior Santa Program connects some isolated community members with those who want to help.
“I think everyone should take away from this and realize that there are seniors who can be overlooked at this time of year,” she said. “It can be very lonely for people. This program sends the message that there are people in the community who care about them and want to make their holidays brighter.”
For more information about the program, visit BeaSantatoaSenior.com or call 207-839-0441. <