Because some seniors in the area have no family to share the holidays with, the “Be a Santa to a Senior” program steps in.
The program, now in its sixth year, asks people in the community to buy small presents for seniors to help them enjoy the holidays and provide them with a few necessities.
“It brings the community together and brings holiday cheer to seniors who are less fortunate with family or finances,” said Kasey Kern, the community relations manager of Home Instead Senior Care, which runs the program.
Loree Parcells got involved when she worked at Life Care Center of Kansas City. She helped 20 residents there get connected with the program.
“Unfortunately, there are lots of residents who live there and never get visitors and don’t have family that live in the same state. I can only speak for my building, but I know that happens in a lot of facilities,” Parcells said.
This year, 207 seniors are part of the program. Their wish lists are posted on paper ornaments that adorn Christmas trees set up at three Johnson County Hy-Vee stores: 6801 W. 91st St., 11552 W. 95th St. and 7620 State Line Road.
The items on the ornaments are modest. Most ask for sweat suits; one man just asked for some soda and snacks. Each person lists one to three items, and most cost less than $15. To maintain privacy, the residents are only identified by first name.
To participate, anyone may take an ornament off the tree, buy the items listed and bring the purchase to the customer service desk at any of the three participating Hy-Vee stores. Next year, Kern said, they hope to have more locations.
“I think seniors get overlooked. Everyone thinks of Christmas for children, and I agree, but these seniors have been around and raised their families, and you hate to see them alone for the holidays,” Parcells said.
There are similar programs in Lee’s Summit and in Liberty. This particular program serves seniors in several different nursing and assisted living facilities in the Kansas City area.
Kern finds people who might need help by talking with people like Parcells, who work at these facilities and know their residents quite well, so they can more easily approach them about participating.
“Usually they just say, ‘Honey, I don’t need anything,’ ” Parcells said. “They’re so humble. They don’t even ask for stuff — that’s the hardest part.”
Sometimes the nurses who care for the seniors are the best resource for finding out who might need a pair of slippers or another robe.
Senior care professionals from all over the area get together each year to wrap about 500 presents for delivery.
“It’s a massive project. They have piles of stuff going every which way, and everything is color coded. It’s a lot of work,” Parcells said.
Kern and other Home Instead employees deliver the gifts in December. When she gives seniors presents, “most of them are in tears. They want to sit and share their joy with you,” Kern said.
One resident she’s delivered presents to in the past has been quadriplegic for 40 years. They brought him posters and new National Geographic videos, so he could continue to “travel the world” in his own way.
Sometimes when Kern visits with a present, the card from the previous year’s Santa program is the only holiday card the person has.
That’s what emphasizes the importance of the program to Kern.
“Happiness is a gift that keeps giving, even if it is a pair of gloves or a pack of batteries to fix their hearing aids,” Kern said. “How would you take care of your grandparents?”