Regional program helps seniors to not be forgotten during the holidays

As the holidays approach, decorations go up and outdoor light displays make a warm glow in the cold. Church bells ring while families and friends gather for hot meals, some exchanging gifts.

For some, the cold winter brings holiday loneliness. Seniors who may not have family or a spouse left are sometimes forgotten around the holiday season.

Sandy DeLauter, one of the owners of the local Home Instead Senior Care offices, recently started a program called “Be a Santa to a Senior,” which is teaming up with local non-profit agencies and areas retailers sponsors.

“It can be very hard for our seniors in the community, whether they’re living alone in their own homes or in a facility, especially if they do not have family nearby or no one to spend the holiday with,” DeLauter said. “If they’ve lost a spouse or a loved one, it can be quite lonely this time of year.”

An estimated 27 percent of people 65 and older (10.8 million people) are widowed, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Further, the Administration on Aging reports about 28 percent (11.8 million) non-institutionalized people 65 and older live alone.

The program collects, wraps and delivers gifts to lonely and needy seniors in the Central Susquehanna River Valley including Lycoming, Northumberland, Union and Snyder counties.

DeLauter noted the program lets seniors know someone is thinking of them.

“It’s a very heart-warming program,” she said.

Area Agencies of Aging and other senior facilities in the counties provide the program with the names of those areas senior to participate.

As part of Be a Santa to a Senior, trees have been set up in various locations baring senior’s first names are placed on a tag. Along with the name a gift request of something in need is listed.

“Holiday shoppers can pick an ornament from these trees, buy the items listed and return them unwrapped to the store, with the ornament attached,” DeLauter said. “Then, we will host two gift-wrapping parties with help from volunteers from the community, our staff, senior-care business associates, non-profit workers and others to collect, wrap and distribute the gifts to local seniors.”

Often times, DeLauter said, seniors are on fixed incomes and may not to be able to afford everyday items and gifts from this program can provide extra assistance.

“Their wish lists are so simple: batteries, slippers, socks. Some shoppers will add extra items to their senior’s wish lift out of the kindness of their hearts, just because the wish lists are items that help a senior meet his or her basic needs,” she said.

Donations come from the community and help to add extra items to all of the seniors’ gifts, DeLauter said.

“Readers can simply stop by one of the trees, pick an ornament off and shop for a senior. They simply leave the ornament with the purchased items in the Santa box near the tree. And then the community can also show up at the gift-wrapping parties and help wrap gifts,” DeLauter said.

She said it shows holiday cheer and supper to the seniors of the community.

Other ways to help community seniors during the holidays, or any other time of year DeLauter said to contact their local Area Office of Aging.

“There are activities and programs daily that people can volunteer to help with. Or become a caregiver. They make a direct impact on local seniors’ lives,” she said.

“People are so generous but with the economy, it worries me if people are able to help. Still, every year, it works out so well. Our community always rallies around this program and our seniors. It’s a wonderful program,” she said.

For more information about the program, visit