"It is often said that 'Christmas is for children,' but we want to make sure our seniors aren't overlooked," said Lucy Novelly of the "Be a Santa to a Senior" program that kicked off last week.
"There are several wonderful programs that help provide presents for children, but many seniors need things as well ... the holidays are for them, too," she said.
Ms. Novelly is the owner of Home Instead Senior Care locations in South Hills and Washington. All of the Home Instead Pittsburgh locations are partnering with numerous nonprofits and retail stores to ensure that senior citizens here receive gifts this holiday season. The partnerships ensure that needy seniors are identified, gifts are purchased and the wrapped gifts are distributed.
"We've done this for several years, and it really touches not only those we give to but everyone involved," she said.
If you want to "Be a Santa for a Senior," visit one of the following participating locations in East Hills:
• Kmart stores at 120 Mall Blvd., Monroeville; 1775 S. Braddock Ave.; 1901 Lincoln Highway, North Versailles
• Walgreens stores at 324 Hulton Road, Oakmont; 10707 Frankstown Road and 6201 Saltsburg Road, Penn Hills; 133 W. Eighth Ave., Homestead
• Penn Hills Senior Service Center, 147 Jefferson Road
• Century III Mall, 3075 Clairton Road, West Mifflin
Times and dates vary; check individual stores.
Numerous nonprofits identify seniors who may not have family or those with families struggling financially, and provide the information to the Home Instead offices. These seniors may live at home or in health care facilities.
Home Instead then takes the information to create ornaments that are placed on Christmas trees in a number of retail locations. Shoppers select an ornament, purchase gifts and drop them off at participating locations.
"It couldn't be easier," Ms. Novelly said.
Home Instead staffers then pick up the gifts and have wrapping parties, another way for community members to participate. Anyone wishing to lend a helping hand can come to one of the parties and help wrap.
Wrapped gifts are then taken to the nonprofits, which deliver them.
"One woman received beautiful towels, and she cried because someone was so generous," Mrs. Novelly said.
Tim Lyon, co-owner of the Home Instead in Zelienople, said he has heard from recipients that Senior Santa gifts may be the only ones they will receive during a holiday season.
"We like to think everyone gets gifts, but some of these folks don't have any family," he said.
Mr. Lyon's Home Instead office serves Butler, Beaver and parts of Armstrong counties. He works with the Big Lots store in Rochester and said the store helps by putting the Christmas tree in an obvious location, then sorting the gifts for collection.
"They are wonderful to work with and help us get the word out," he said.
Meals on Wheels of Peters is one of a number of organizations that act as liaison between Home Instead and the seniors.
"We have clients who would spend the holiday alone, without any gifts," director Susan Hanawalt said.
Her program covers Peters and the surrounding area, serving approximately 150 people every day.
"Those who live by themselves can get very lonely during the holidays," she said.
Mrs. Hanawalt has delivered gifts to her clients over the past few years, and it is now part of her own holiday tradition.
"Our folks are surprised, amazed and delighted. They can't believe that someone they don't know would buy them gifts," she said.
She shared one of her favorite stories from the program.
"We had a client in her late 90s who loved to write. Someone gave her a wonderful selection of cards and stamps. She was incredulous -- she thought it wonderful that someone not only gave her the cards, but was so thoughtful to include postage," she said.neigh_east
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.