Don your Santa hats

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Giving: Donations bring Christmas cheer to seniors

By Arin McKenna

Home Instead Senior Care is once again asking Los Alamos residents to “Be a Santa to a Senior.”

The five-year-old program relies on the generosity of local communities to bring gifts and companionship to isolated and financially challenged seniors.

Home Instead partners with nonprofits and community organizations to identify seniors who may not otherwise receive gifts, then sets up Christmas trees with ornaments identifying seniors by first name and one or two gifts they would like.

Shoppers choose an ornament, buy an item on the list and return it, unwrapped, to the tree’s location with the ornament attached.

The Betty Ehart Senior Center is sponsoring a tree for local residents. Trees are also set up at both Santa Fe Wal-Marts and at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center for Santa Fe seniors.

“Seniors faced with medical bills and the high cost of living can find they have little left at the end of the year,” said Chico Marquez, owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico. “That’s not the only issue, though. Personal needs may become magnified for so many living alone with no one to share their problems.”

Marquez said that as baby boomers start retiring, the number of seniors in need is rising. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nine percent of U.S. seniors 65 and older are living in poverty and 27 percent are widowed.

“This year, between Santa Fe and Los Alamos, we’re expected to touch at least 450 seniors,” Marquez said. “So it’s growing. Last year we helped from 350 to 400 people.”

Marquez said the program has been very successful at reaching its goals.

“People are very generous. It’s a amazing,” Marquez said. “Oftentimes we’ll write down a couple different gift ideas on the ornament we put on the tree, just so people have an option of what gifts to purchase. And more often than not both gifts are purchased, as well as sometimes cards written out personally to seniors that are going to get the gift or little knick knacks that people add to the gifts. So a lot of personal touches are added to the gifts.”

Once the gifts are collected, Home Instead sees to distribution.

“Home Instead Senior Care will wrap the gifts and our caregivers will actually take the gifts to the senior’s homes,” Marquez said. “And if we’re able and the seniors are open to it, we’ll watch them open the gift and just spend a little bit of tie with them.”

As to how recipients react, Marquez said, “They love it. Sometimes they’re very surprised, but once they realize what we’re doing and we’re there to bring a little cheer, they love it. Seniors love company, they love to talk, they love to share, and I think it’s just a nice surprise. Although some may know we’re coming, many are surprised and just thrilled to have us.”

For those who would like to do more than just purchase a gift, volunteers are needed for a gift wrapping party from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Center, 1121 Alto St., Santa Fe. Marquez said Los Alamos does not have a gift wrapping party because the number of gifts is small enough for staff to handle.

Although Home Instead has no formal program for volunteers to help distribute the gifts, Marquez said that those wishing to help can call 471-2777. Gifts will be distributed as schedules allow the week before Christmas.

“I think this is a way for us to connect the community to a very important population, especially in Los Alamos. Some people have been here since the ‘50s,” Marquez said. “It’s our way of connecting the community to what in Los Alamos they call Living Treasures, and being able to give back to them and just spend a little time with them.”

For more information, visit beasantatoasenior.com or call 471-2777.