GORHAM, Maine — In a few weeks, Santa Claus will be making his rounds for Christmas. Before that, though, an initiative is underway in Cumberland County to help make sure seniors have a happy holiday.
The "Be a Santa to a Senior" program happens through the home health care service Home Instead. It began outside of Maine but was a big success and spread across the network. For at least 10 years, the location in Gorham has been taking part. It started by serving a couple hundred seniors and now serves 740 seniors in 2021.
The program's goal is to give back to the community, spread holiday cheer, and connect with older (and sometimes isolated) folks. A number of nonprofit agencies work to refer older adults in Cumberland County to Home Instead. They're given tags to write down three gifts they need. Those tags are placed on trees at local businesses, and community members can purchase the requested items. The gift bags are then packed up at Home Instead in Gorham.
"We want to make sure that nobody is overlooked at this time of year," Kathy Damon, a home care consultant at Home Instead, told NEWS CENTER Maine.
Damon noted there are a lot of opportunities for people to support families and children this time of year, but older adults sometimes aren't as prioritized. Popular gift requests include clothing, blankets, puzzles, and toiletries.
Once the gift bags are ready to go, they're delivered to seniors. That happens either in group settings (like a holiday party) or individually, with personalized drop-offs to homes, sometimes accompanied by a local police department. Damon said that's often the highlight of this initiative, adding the response is typically "overwhelming."
"The visit itself is as important or even more important than a gift," she said. "I mean, the gifts are wonderful, but just having somebody knock on the door and say, 'I hear you've been very good this year,' and, 'We want to deliver you this gift from Santa,' you know, I just think it's just a priceless thing for seniors."
Susan Sedenka of Gorham has been giving to this program for years, and this is her second year wrapping the gifts. She said as an older adult herself now, the mission hits even closer to home.
"It feels very, very rewarding and makes me kind of warm inside knowing that some people who are in a bit of an isolated place might have a happy Christmas," Sedenka said.
In light of the isolation brought on by the pandemic, this program has become even more special.
"I don't think it's what the gift is at all," Sedenka. "I think it's like, 'Oh, somebody cares about me. Somebody's thinking of me right now, and I'm not alone.'"
Tags for seniors have all been taken, but Damon said there are still ways people can help with this cause. They can make a monetary donation here to help pay for any missing items. Sedenka said she also encourages people to look into volunteering for the cause.