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Santa for Seniors project already underway

Once again, the Office for Aging Services is teaming up with Mayville Baptist Church and Hurlbut Church to bring the holiday cheer to isolated seniors across our county.

The Santa for Seniors project delivers a gift bag filled with goodies and everyday essentials as well as a holiday meal to over 150 older adults. The Santa for Seniors project is 100% supported by community donations since government funding cannot be used for this purpose.

Santa for Seniors started over 20 years ago as part of our elder abuse prevention program as a way to connect with isolated seniors who had no family in the area.

It has since grown to a community project aimed at bringing the holidays to older adults living alone, without close friends and family or maybe to a couple where one is dealing with a serious illness like dementia. Being socially isolated can have a great effect on our physical as well as mental health. During the COVID 19 pandemic, we all got a taste of what it is like to be socially isolated and how lonely life can be when we cannot visit or gather with friends and family. There are some in our community who are alone all the time and those are the ones we are trying to reach with this project. The most important part of the Santa for Senior’s is the visit from our volunteer “Elves” to check on the older person and talk a bit about their lives, while delivering the gifts. That visit is priceless to someone living alone. Some of our volunteers take their children or grandchildren along and sometimes Santa and Mrs. Claus have tagged along to the delight of many recipients.

The Office for the Aging works with many organization to identify and vet the people who receive the Santa for Senior’s bags including Chautauqua Adult Day Services, Adult Protection, CASA, Mental Hygiene, senior housing, and some physician practices. While most recipients are alone, a few are couples usually one dealing with a serious illness or dementia. The Mayville Baptist Church collects items and donations to fill the gift bags while Hurlbutt Church collects donations and coordinates the holiday meal. It all comes together a week before Christmas when our volunteer elves deliver the bags and spread some holiday cheer! There is nothing better than seeing the joy this unexpected visit brings to people who live in our community.

We hope you enjoy the holidays. Remember to give thanks for all the people who surround you during the holidays and throughout the year. And thank you to the volunteers who help the seniors in our community throughout the year by delivering meals, providing transportation, calling and visiting with seniors, providing respite for caregivers and all the other little things that help seniors live independently in the community. They say it takes a village to raise a child but I think it also takes a community to keep older people active, engaged and vibrant through the end of life. For more information about the Santa for Seniors project or anything related to seniors call our NY Connects helpline at 753-4582, 661-7582, or 363-4582.

Mary Ann Spanos is Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Director.

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