At Lutheran Community Services Northwest, everything is focused on one generous objective – the act of giving. Through its unique, and free, programs and its committed staff, LCS exists to support seniors, those on a low income, refugees, the disabled, and others through kindness, respect and compassionate care.
The holiday season is a special time for LCS to bring Yuletide cheer to senior citizens who might otherwise be forgotten. Isolation and loneliness are met with warmth and thoughtful gifts courtesy of Santa for Seniors. The warehouse at the LCS Tacoma office is a veritable Santa’s workshop right now as donations are sorted, organized and put into big gift bags for distribution to elders who often are homebound or live alone and can’t take part in Christmas traditions that so many of us enjoy.
This year’s goal is to fill 5,600 bags – up by more than a thousand from last year – with another 500 seniors on a waiting list in the hopes that LCS will receive enough donations to gift them as well.
“It depends on community donations on how many more (gift bag) assemblies we’ll have and how many more seniors we’ll be able to reach,” said Santa for Seniors Director Susan Nocella. “The need is out there.”
It’s a group undertaking to pack up this year’s goal of 5,600 gift bags.
Gift items come from a variety of sources, from corporate donations of overstock or undamaged returns to caring individuals out in communities who want to do something meaningful to keep that Christmas spirit. Folks can turn to the Santa for Seniors wish list on Amazon (the link is at lcsnw.org/program/santa-for-seniors) or brainstorm their own gift ideas. Santa for Seniors volunteers pack up lap blankets, jigsaw puzzles, non-slip socks, magnifiers and a mix of other practical and fun gifts that the elderly can put to good use.
“We had a couple people reach out to us with handmade scarves and handmade quilted blankets,” Nocella said. “We’ll get cards, hats, so it’s whatever is going to work for them. Last year I had somebody who went to Costco and just filled up their cart and dropped it all off.”
Another way to get involved is to sign up as a volunteer to help get the gift bags all prepared. It just takes a couple or a few hours to make a big difference in the workload. If you’d like to make cards or ornaments, a wonderful project for students, families or church groups, LCS can provide you with kits containing everything you would need. Host a gift item drive, set up a tree of caring in your workplace or classroom, sponsor a senior, donate money – there are all kinds of ways to support the cause.
Helpers from LCS’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) have been essential and reliable volunteers, adding their capable hands to those of Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, groups of friends, families and businesses that come out make it all happen. Young people are particularly welcome to learn how selflessly caring for our neighbors is one of the most beautiful acts anyone can do.
Racks of filled bags are all ready for delivery.
“I feel really strongly that it’s important to create awareness and connection with our youth that a lot of seniors are lonely or don’t have their own families,” Nocella said.
Santa for Seniors has a broad reach among 10 Washington counties, which makes partnerships critical to coordinating gift bag distribution. Some partners, like Meals on Wheels in Clallam County, are returning this year and some are new: Homage Senior Services in Snohomish County, Sound Generations in King County and the Korean Women’s Association in Pierce County. Also new is the addition of Astoria, OR, as a Santa for Seniors participant and Nocella said she’s getting a lot of interest from service organizations in Spokane to come on board as well.
Soon, Santa for Seniors will be going national thanks to an unprecedented endowment this year from the William A Looney Family Foundation. It was William Looney who started Santa for Seniors before he passed away in 2015, and his family foundation serves as a lasting legacy to honor Looney’s giving soul starting from when he would dress as Santa and visit nursing home residents with presents in hand.
To learn more about Santa for Seniors, go to lcsnw.org/program/santa-for-seniors, call (253) 722-5684, or email [email protected]