In Loveland, Colorado, Santa Claus is checking his list, and checking it twice, but this list has much older folks than usual. Secret Santas for the Elderly, a nonprofit founded in 1996, organizes volunteers to visit with and check on residents of assisted living communities and nursing homes who aren’t fortunate enough to have family that visit regularly. Since the organization’s inception, their volunteers have visited and brought gifts to more than 7,000 Loveland seniors.
The organization was founded by Diane Johnson after a holiday to her own mother in a nursing home during the holidays. During the visit she realized that many of her mother’s fellow residents wouldn’t be receiving any visitors or gifts during the holidays.
An article in the Loveland Reporter Herald described how the program started small, but quickly blossomed with the help of a growing network of volunteers as well as donations and other contributions from the public. This year they’re seeking 300 volunteers to fulfill their mission.
The Reporter Herald article quotes Susan Ritter, who has been volunteering with Secret Santas for the Elderly for several years. Ritter told the paper, “It’s always fun to surprise them. They don’t know we’ve got their names…I had people cry, they were so happy that someone remembered them.”
The Greatest Gift of All
But Loveland isn’t the only locale with a program like this. Programs like this exist through the country, including in Fort Bend County, Texas (near Houston). In Fort Bend the local Meals on Wheels program will be delivering 2,000 gifts to local seniors. Director Fort Bend Meals on Wheels, Manuela Arroyos, talked about how rewarding this program is to her and all the Secret Santas who help out, ‘”They say when children wake up Christmas morning their faces are beaming and glowing with joy at the gifts around the tree, but when you see an elderly’s face light up when they open their doors to receive gifts, their pure joy and delight of realizing they have not been forgotten, and their total appreciation is something that you just have to see to understand what it means to not be forgotten.”
While the Secret Santas come bearing gifts, Johnson of the Loveland Secret Santa program says she believes that the volunteer’s time is the most precious gift of all. Volunteers are encouraged to “adopt” the elderly residents and visit throughout the year. Johnson remarks, “The people in these homes are hungry for people to pass some time and just talk with them. That is truly the gift.”
Santa photo by Flickr user Kevin Cooley, used via Creative Commons License (commercial use allowed)