Last December, Joyce Ano, 63, had a surprise delivered to her Northfield home: new gloves, pajamas, writing paper and pens from an anonymous gift-giver acting as a secret Santa to seniors and handicapped Franklin-area residents who receive Meals on Wheels.
“It’s nice when you’re alone. I’m disabled. I was completely surprised and I was very grateful, very grateful,” said Ano who suffers from COPD and requires oxygen round-the-clock.
“We sometimes hear, ‘This will be my only gift,” said Nancy Marceau, director of Franklin’s TRIP Center, the Twin Rivers Intergeneration Program, which distributed 160 gift bags last year to older or disabled adults, many without local family members and living alone. “People are so generous. These are not small gifts. Sometimes we break them up just to spread them out.” The presents were collected through “Be a Santa to a Senior” — a holiday program run by Home Instead, a caregiving agency in Manchester.
During the holidays, charitable focus turns to buying presents for children whose families have suffered setbacks — for whom gift-giving is a luxury or an impossibility. But elders living alone, often without surviving friends and family, easily remain invisible, and programs that reach lonely or disabled seniors become essential conduits for spreading love and good cheer.
“All a person has to do is take one walk through a nursing home and he or she will know that people are very much alone,” said Joan Hops of Goffstown, whose husband Rich, 72, is wheelchair-bound, paralyzed on his left side by a stroke he suffered at age 49.
Last year, caregivers from Home Instead, which disburses donated gifts through its nationwide “Be a Santa to a Senior” program, made an unannounced call on Rich, who had broken his leg and was spending Christmas recovering at Catholic Medical Center. The bounty of slipper socks and word-find puzzle books, a signed banner from caregivers who had helped him over the past two years, and friendly conversation about things he enjoys, especially car racing and ice fishing, brought the former insurance agent joy and pleasant reminders of his former life.
“More people need to know what a bonus and benefit it is having people who care in your area,” she said. When you’re older and disabled, “You begin losing your friends. Life is fast and you’re not moving fast any more. When you lose that network, it’s nice to know someone cares and someone knows you exist.”
Last year Home Instead collected 330 gifts dropped off at businesses in Manchester, Concord and Penacook, sending 130 to the Community Action Program of Belknap-Merrimack Counties, 100 to the Manchester Police Department, which maintains a list of needy seniors, 30 to Liberty House for homeless and struggling veterans, and the balance to the New Hampshire Veterans’ Home in Tilton and to Home Instead clients without family, or who were going through a difficult time, said Caitlin Cawley, a home care consultant for Home Instead.
“Sometimes they fall through the cracks. This shows seniors that we see them as an important part of our community,” Cawley said.
To participate in this year’s outreach, visit the following locations by Dec. 10, and pick an ornament listing a senior’s first name and desired gifts from the “Be a Santa to a Senior” tree. Buy the gifts and return them to the store or business — no need to wrap.
Tony Caparo III, State Farm Agent, 510 Kelley St., Manchester
Merrimack County Savings Bank, 89 N. Main St., Concord
Chalifour’s Flowers, 46 Elm St., Manchester
Concord Regional Technical Center, 170 Warren St., Concord
St. George Orthodox Cathedral, 650 Hanover St., Manchester
Bellman Jewelers, 1650 Elm St., Manchester
John H. Whitaker Place, 30 Borough Road, Penacook
Hitachi Cable America, 900 Holt Ave., Manchester