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Home Instead's annual 'Be a Santa to a Senior' program has been delivering goodies to elderly for years



A Hillsboro in-home senior care center is delivering a little holiday cheer this week to at-risk seniors across western Washington County.

On Tuesday, the staff at Home Instead Senior Care in Hillsboro wrapped more than 250 gifts as part of the company's annual "Be a Santa to a Senior" program, which delivers gifts to home-bound seniors in Hillsboro and Forest Grove, as well as Columbia and Yamhill counties.

"We're busy ho-ho-hoing," Phyllis Peabody said as she double-checked bags marked for delivery during a gift-wrapping party at the company's Hillsboro office off Cornell Road. "It's organized chaos in here."

Home Instead, the largest senior care franchise in the world, has been putting on the annual event for years. The company's Hillsboro franchise works with local Meals on Wheels People in Columbia, Washington and Yamhill counties to deliver gifts to seniors in need each winter.

"The folks we're helping tonight are not our usual clients," said co-owner Todd Barth. "These are the neediest of the needy."

Meals on Wheels provides the company with the names of seniors who could benefit from the gifts, said Peabody, the company's business and community development manager who's been in charge of the program for the past three years. The seniors make Christmas wish lists, which are hung at local Bi-Mart stores. Customers are encouraged to purchase the requested items and donate them to the organization.

The program depends on the kindness and generosity of strangers, something Peabody said the community has provided year after year.

"They don't even know these people, but they do it every year," Peabody said. "Our goal is to bring the community together, and this bring the customers and Bi-Mart and Meals on Wheels together. It's all-inclusive. It's amazing and awesome."

The gifts are wrapped and delivered by Meals on Wheels People the week before Christmas. Peabody said the company buys any gifts that aren't purchased by the community.

"No senior is left behind," Peabody said.

Home Instead started delivering presents in the Hillsboro area five years ago, and has expanded in the past few years to include Forest Grove, Vernonia, Scappoose and St. Helens, Peabody said. This year, the program will deliver to Rainier and McMinnville as well, with plans to expand to Newberg next year.

This is the first year the company's annual gift drive has reached all three counties. Co-owner Todd Barth hopes it doesn't stop there.

"We deliver a couple hundred more gifts each year," Todd Barth said. "Eventually we'll be too big to handle it on our own, but what a nice problem that would be to serve so many people?"

Peabody expects the company to deliver about 500 gifts to home-bound seniors this year.

Community connection

Holiday gift drives are traditionally aimed at children, Peabody said, and seniors are often excluded.

"The two most vulnerable demographics in our community are children and seniors," Peabody said.

Kristi Barth said the holidays can be a difficult time for seniors who are unable to spend time with friends or loved ones.

"Research suggests that feelings of loneliness can have a real effect on both mental and physical health," she said. "The holidays are a prime time for many people to feel lonely, and that may be especially true for seniors who cannot travel from their homes or have lost their support network."

Kristi Barth said the gifts can make a big difference in people's lives, and remind them that the community cares about them.

"One lady a few years ago wanted a large purple coat with a fur good. We found it and delivered it to her," she said. "The look on their faces was so worth it. She was incredulous that we actually found the things she wanted."

Some seniors ask for small items, such as bedsheets or shoes, while others ask for things they desperately need.

"We've had requests for microwaves, because they didn't have one and needed one," she said.

Kristi Barth, Todd's wife and co-owner of Home Instead, said many of the seniors have come to rely on the annual program.

"A lot of the people we'll serve this year don't get gifts from their family. Could you imagine if this was their only gift and we didn't come through and provide it for them?" she said.

It's not just the gift recipients who come away from the program having gained something, Peabody said.

"A man came to our wrapping party in Columbia County the other day, and when I asked him how he was doing he said, 'Bah humbug, I hate Christmas," Peabody said. "I asked why he was here and he said he wanted to give it another try. He helped us wrap gifts and at the end of it he was having a good time. I talked to him later and he said, 'Christmas might be OK this year.'

"That's what I love about this program. The whole community benefits from this."

The gifts are expected to be delivered later this week by Meals on Wheels employees, Peabody said.



By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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