Nearly 15 years ago, a program called Be a Santa to a Senior started in Omaha, Nebraska, within Home Instead Senior Care to provide those who are often forgotten a little joy during the holidays.
The program moved to Conway 13 years ago, Home Instead Senior Care Director of Marketing, Philip Young, said adding that Conway Regional Medical Center joined the effort to provide for seniors in the community.
“It was mainly to be able to give gifts to seniors that normally would not get them, financially maybe not be able to, get anything for Christmas,” he said.
Young has worked with Tyisha Allen, the human resources coordinator at the hospital, for the past five years.
“She’s been a huge part of this process ever since,” Young said.
The program, he said, runs like Angel Tree does for kids … by placing ornaments on a tree with items listed for people to pick up and donate.
“I think it’s a very overlooked population, so, I’m just glad that there is something like this in existence for them,” Young said.
In total, he said, Home Instead serves several counties in the area including Faulkner, County, Pope, Cleburne, Van Buren and Perry counties. He said they end up doing around 500 or more each year, with Faulkner County taking up about half of that.
Young said they get the client names and their wish lists from the different nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and others. Then they create the ornaments, put tags on them and take them to places like Conway Regional, which are “gracious enough” to house them at their locations.
“To be honest, usually before we even get them, employees start calling and emailing, ‘have we gotten tags, have we gotten tags,’ so they look forward to this every year,” Allen said. “They know … it’s that time, it’s supposed to be here. We start getting employee emails and questions about them early and then once we have them we just send out a huge email and say they’re here, pick them up anytime and they do. They trickle in and out picking up tags.”
Seeing the employees be so supportive and active in the program is “pretty cool,” she said.
“I just love seeing the heart of the employees,” Allen said. “To know that we have employees that look forward to it and to expect it to happen, we have employees that have really big hearts and they are ready to give.”
She said the hospital has some of the best employees when it comes to giving.
“It’s nice to see people that look outside of themselves to bless somebody else. I think that’s the greatest part in our involvement is to know that our employees are ready and are waiting and are looking forward to being a part of this,” Allen said.
She said they also have others outside in the community eager every year to come in and grab an ornament.
“Just yesterday, we had a little lady come in and she wanted to pick one up off the tree and bring it back and she was just from the community,” Allen said.
As of Nov. 20, the tree had around 25 ornaments left for pick up. She said Young had already brought several groups since Be a Santa started on Nov. 2.
“They go like hot cakes,” Allen said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Young said people have until Dec. 2 to pick up and turn in the gifts at the drop-off centers.
The Log Cabin Democrat asked him what type of items are often asked for.
“It’s really interesting to see what comes back, what we put on there for them,” Young said. “It’s really sad because it’s just needs-based items, shampoo, blankets, slippers. It’s not like you would think it would be, a computer [or something]; it’s very basic, needed items and that’s 99 percent of what comes [through].”
The LCD took a look at the tree noting that items listed included one request for large pajama pants and medium shirts, another for stretch pants, long-sleeve shirts and house shoes and chocolate and more requesting similar items.
Young said what drives him to keep doing the event year after year is spreading holiday cheer.
“That’s a given, but at the same time, it’s a way to give back to those seniors that most of them have had pretty big impacts in our lives at some point,” he said. “I just see it as a way to just give back to those who made such an impact on our lives.”
After the gifts are picked up, they are taken to where the clients or residents live. Oftentimes, the homes host Christmas parties together and open the presents.
Young said he gets to go to several facilities and see the reactions.
“Don’t get me started but even sometimes [they’re] brought to tears and stuff like that,” he said. “And of course joy.”
What really gets him, Young said, is when someone asked for something special and they actually get it.
“Those are probably the best things, just seeing that,” he said.
Those moments, Young said, can be emotional, especially after the busy two-month time period it takes to put everything together and then finally see the work pay off.
“It makes me super proud to be a part of Home Instead No.1, just to be a part of being able to do something like this, but yes, it’s a lot of emotion that builds up there, finally,” he said. “It always works out, everybody always gets their gifts, no one’s ever left out.”
Both agreed that they are thankful for those who give.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling to me because we do have that type of community,” Allen said. “Not just with this program, but I think we just have a great giving community. To know that we have a community that don’t want to leave these seniors out, I just think that is so special. We have a community who wants to be a blessing to others and I think that is so special.”
She said we can take for granted that we are surrounded by family and loved ones, especially during the holiday seasons, when that’s not always the case for everyone. Knowing there are ones who think of others, is overwhelming.
Young said they couldn’t do the program without people out there who bend over backward to help those in need.
“Be a Santa to a Senior helps bring comfort and a smile to many seniors,” Home Instead Senior Care Center in Conway owner Paul Fry, said. “It shows them that people care about them and see them as an important part of the community. Social isolation is a concern among seniors and the holidays often intensify feelings of distance and loneliness. When we deliver the gifts and spend some time with them, it makes a big difference.”
For those interested in the program, visit www.beasantatoasenior.com or drop by the Conway Regional Medical Center Human Resources Office — located at the building’s west entrance — where Allen works between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday before Dec. 2.
Be a Santa to a Senior trees can be found at the following locations:
Conway Regional Medical Center, 2302 College Avenue, Conway, AR 72034.Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center, 1808 W. Main Street, Russellville, AR 72801.Pope County Senior Activity Center, 110 N. Rochester, Russellville, AR 72801.Better Together Program, Pope Co. Cooperative Extension Service, 105 West B St., Russellville, AR, 72801.Dardanelle Senior Center, 615 N. 5th St., Dardanelle, AR 72834.Baptist Health Medical Center, 1800 Bypass Rd., Heber Springs, AR, 72543.