It is time to be a Santa to a Senior [Commentary]

Aging poor have heart-breaking requests for Christmas

December 18, 2013|Susan Reimer

It is old-school, all right, but one of the traditions columnists observe at this time of year is to highlight a favorite charity, reminding readers who have donated in the past to do so again.

So again this year I will focus on "Be a Santa to a Senior," a holiday fund-raising campaign to provide a little something to those who are the most vulnerable among us — the aging poor.

It was begun a decade ago by Paul and Lori Hogan, founders of Home Instead Senior Care, which provides nonmedical, in-home care for seniors. The campaign has collected more than a million gifts for seniors, including more than 10,000 in Maryland.

"Be a Santa to a Senior" works with local social service departments that can identify those in need in the community and grant a holiday wish. Meals on Wheels and organizations like Partners in Care in Anne Arundel County keep an eye out among their clients, too.

And those wishes are heart-breakingly modest. A book of puzzles. A pair of glasses fixed. A clock with large numbers. Toothpaste and a new toothbrush. Light bulbs. Some cookies. A small holiday ham. A lap robe or slippers. Soft sheets to protect thin and tender skin. A ride to meet a grandchild for lunch or to buy a gift.

But most often, the seniors ask for a simple gift card to Target or a grocery store to buy cleaning supplies or some extra food. It is little enough.

Pamela Urnowey is the marketing director for Home Instead franchises in Anne Arundel and Howard counties, and she is looking for Santas for her seniors again this year. She was able to collect about 800 gifts in 2008, but after the economy tanked, the numbers dropped. Only 300 gifts were collected in 2009 and 400 in 2010.

She counts on companies and corporations to step forward to "adopt" dozens of seniors. Volunteers gather and wrap and label the gifts. County social workers deliver them in time for Christmas.

Last year, 800 seniors received gifts — many of them $50 and $100 gift cards to local grocery stores, thanks in many cases to Baltimore Sun readers. This year's goal, she announced, was 1,000 seniors.

Giving trees went up in Walmarts and Kmarts in the area with requests from 500 seniors. "So many more of them were for food this year," said Ms. Urnowey. But when the trees came down, about 150 tags remained — seniors without gifts. And the campaign is far short of its goal of helping 1,000 seniors.

So I am turning to you, Sun readers.

There are a lot of admirable destinations for our dollars this holiday season. Sick or disadvantaged children, military families, the homeless and the hungry.

But the lives of the aging poor touch me on a different level because any one of them might have been my grandmother or my mother — it is almost always women — both of whom saw their worlds shrink to the size of a sitting room. The simplest tasks became a challenge. Friends died away, and children were too busy.

To think that Christmas to them might have meant only a visit from a social worker and a gift card is almost more than the tender heart can stand.

So put down this newspaper and open up your checkbook. Any amount will do, of course, but think about what you might be willing to spend to comfort an aging loved one at Christmas. All the more if those parents and grandparents can be with you in the midst of the holiday merriment, warm in your kitchen, pampered with the affection of children and grandchildren.

"I know most people want to buy something special for a senior," said Ms. Urnowey. "They don't like the idea of gift cards. But, truthfully, it is what they ask for most."

Pamela Urnowey will use her holiday magic to turn your checks into those gift cards.

Those who wish to donate should make checks payable to Home Instead and include "Be a Santa to a Senior" in the memo area. Donations can be sent to Home Instead, 1511 Ritchie Highway, Suite 301, Arnold, MD 21012. Please do not make checks payable to Pam Urnowey.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on

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