By Joe Johnson
WAMY’s inaugural Santa for Seniors program exceeded everyone’s expectations in 2019, bringing over 750 gifts and Christmas joy to those around the community who were not able to leave their homes during the holiday season.
WAMY (Watauga, Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey Community Action Inc.) began the Santa for Seniors program to partner with shut-ins and hospice patients throughout the community; the program aims to bring these isolated people Christmas cheer in the form of gifts containing basic items that are useful to those who cannot leave their home such as socks, lotion, chapstick, and other items.
“The Santa for Seniors program came about because we wanted to help those in our community who are elderly; specifically those who are shut-ins,” said Ashley Cook, Development Director of WAMY, “Shut-ins are people with no means of transportation from their home, and many of them receive home cooked meals, in some places it’s called Meals on Wheels. Some of these people don’t have family either, so we wanted to make sure that this time of year they know we are thinking of them!”
Those at WAMY were not too sure how successful the Santa for Seniors program would be during its initial run in 2019. In fact, the drive went above and beyond what anyone would have ever expected, bringing in over 750 gifts dedicated to putting a smile on recipients’ faces. “It was amazing! We started blasting Santa for Seniors information on social media and people just started calling in droves,” said Cook, “We were getting emails like ‘I know so-and-so who lives by themselves without family, can I put them on your list?’ People kept requesting people they know to be visited by the Santa for Seniors program and it just blew up. It also blew up on the donation end; people kept contacting us saying them or their group wanted to participate. It exploded in both areas, which is awesome!”
Gifts requested for the drive were things that we normally take for granted in our everyday lives such as blankets and socks as well as items to keep one’s mind occupied such as crossword puzzles and coloring books. Gifts such as these can make all the difference for someone who rarely is able to leave their home. Participants followed through with the gift requests and even donated extra items to be distributed; in addition to the gifts, participating churches had children of their parishes make handmade Christmas cards for gift recipients, bringing even more joy to their holiday season. “Some people wanted to take it to the next level and brought things like pajamas, sweatshirts, and pants,” said Cook, “We didn’t have enough of those kinds of items to give to everybody, so we took the extra things and donated those to nursing homes and hospice for them to distribute between their Watauga and Avery patients because they know who needs these items. Some recipients got a little extra this year!”
$2,746.63 in monetary donations was also raised for gifts during the Santa for Seniors drive. Watauga and Avery recipients of the Santa for Seniors program were served at full capacity; gifts were donated to shut-ins including Caldwell Hospice Patients, Home Delivered Meal Clients, Residents at Deerfield Assisted Living, Residents at Cranberry, and those who receive Meals on Wheels.
In addition to serving the above groups at capacity, other gifts were made to Rams Rack Clients, Life Care Center, Glenbridge, Watauga Medical Center, Elderly WAMY Clients, and a bulk donation was made to patients at Caldwell Hospice.
WAMY would like to extend thanks to the organizations and gift donors who participated during the Santa for Seniors drive in Watauga and Avery Counties include the Boone Service League, Regeneration Church, Howard’s Creek Baptist Church, Oak Grove Baptist Church, The Rock Church, Crossnore Presbyterian Church, St. Bernadette, St. Lucien, Watagua Opportunities, and many more individuals and organizations who helped make the first ever Santa for Seniors drive the best it could be.
Santa for Seniors proved to be a major success and WAMY will be holding the drive in 2020 as well; the organization hopes to reach more shut-ins as the program becomes more well known.
Santa for Seniors serves as evidence that every little thing makes a difference. Gifts do not need to be fancy or expensive during Christmastime to give others happiness, simply knowing someone has you in their thoughts is enough to spread holiday cheer.