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New program remembers seniors in need this Christmas

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By John Law, Niagara Falls Review
Sunday, December 6, 2015 12:18:34 EST PM

Laurie Stewart wipes her eyes as she recalls the year her mother told her Christmas was going to be different.

“We have very few wants in our life, we're very fortunate,” she says. “So mom said, instead of getting anything for her for Christmas, she would rather we do something for the needy.”

That first year felt strange, but now she can't imagine Christmas any other way.

As she discovered visiting her grandmother in the nursing home, seniors often faced Christmas alone. When she caught wind of a program called Be a Santa to a Senior, she went online to see if it was offered locally.

As luck would have it, one just started this year.

Offered by Home Instead Senior Care on Thorold Stone Road, the program places Christmas trees in select locations across the region, featuring ornaments with the first names and gift requests of seniors in need. Shoppers can choose a name, buy the items listed and return them to the store.

When Stewart saw the requested items, her heart broke. Dish soap. Cat food. Toilet paper. Basic necessities.

She came to the Thorold Stone Road location and plucked seven names off the tree. When she saw there were only seven more, she took those too.

“How do you leave anybody behind?,” she said. “You don't.”

She called friend Lynn Dickinson and told her “we've got to go shopping.” Other friends and family joined in. Within 48 hours, they returned with several full bags.

“And not just their requests,” she said. “We want to be able to put a smile on their face and make Christmas special.”

Into the bags went candles. Candy. Gloves. Special items they didn't ask for, and aren't expecting.

Dickinson said one senior asked for a mop and a bucket. One asked for toothpaste.

“When people ask for dish soap and toilet paper, it makes you wonder how financially set (they are),” she said.

“There was nothing that we would consider a Christmas gift,” added Stewart.

In addition to the Home Instead Senior Care office at 6293 Thorold Stone Road, trees with names are located at Stamford Home Hardware at 3639 Portage Road and Boggio's Pharmacy at 200 Catherine Street, Port Colborne.

Home Instead owner Denielle Cuoco says the program runs until Dec. 16, and items will be delivered to seniors Dec. 18 or Dec. 21.

“To know that somebody's thinking about them is one of the most important elements,” she said. “Many of these individuals have spent their lives working. They worked hard and they deserve to be recognized for their efforts.”

Home Instead Senior Care was founded in 1994 in Nebraska, offering personalized support for aging adults and their families. It has more than 1,000 independently owned franchises. The Niagara Falls location opened two years ago.

Cuoco saw the success of the Be a Santa to a Senior program in the U.S., and saw a need in Niagara. There are about 100 names spread across the three trees. Names were provided by the region's Seniors Community Outreach Program.

“It has been received very well by the community,” she says. “So much so that I think we'll have to take a look at it on a larger scale next year.”

Stewart simply urges residents to find one of the trees and look at the items requested. Then try not to cry.

“We Canadians open our hearts to everybody, and we're opening our hearts to a lot of other countries,” said Stewart. “Our politicians need to be aware there are people right here, who've given so much, that need the attention. Our people, our seniors.”

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