Becoming Santas to seniors, community shows its heart

11/06/2013 12:00 AM

11/05/2013 5:05 PM

When Betty Kluender delivered a present to another resident of the Santa Fe Towers apartment building in Overland Park last year, she just thought she was helping with Home Instead Senior Care’s Be a Santa to a Senior program.

Turns out, she made a friend.

The next day, Kluender came down with a cold, and the woman she’d met came by to check on her with cough drops and a cup of tea.

“We’re all senior citizens. Some of us have family, some of us don’t. Some of us have money, some of us don’t,” said Kluender, president of the residents’ association at Santa Fe. “I have a large family, and I have a little money, so I’m one of the blessed ones.”

Kluender has volunteered for three years with the program, which provides gifts for seniors who may not have family or the resources to get anything for the holidays. Home Instead runs the collection process, and people at each senior living building distribute the gifts personally.

“Their eyes light up … (and) they thank me,” she said. “Some of them say, when you ask them what they would like, ‘There’s much more needy people than me out there.’”

One man in her building has requested a toaster, and others want warm things to wear.

“We really try to give them something they can use and not just set aside and let it lay,” Kluender said.

Home Instead’s Overland Park franchise office is partnering with local grocery stores, such as Hy-Vee and Price Chopper, to display trees with paper ornaments listing the seniors’ gift requests. Typical requests include sweatshirts, slippers or books.

“We really appreciate the stores that are allowing us to use their space. We couldn’t do it without them,” said Lynn Schieve, community relations manager for Home Instead.

Anyone can select an ornament, buy the item requested on it and return the item to the store for Home Instead to collect and pass along to the senior citizen. Gift collection will continue until Dec. 12.

After that, Home Instead employees volunteer their time to wrap all of the presents and distribute them to the people who requested the items.

Right now, they have more than 200 names of seniors on their list, including Home Instead clients and residents of local senior communities, Schieve said.

“A lot of them just want warm clothes,” Schieve said. “A lot of them are very lonely, and this means the world to them that they get a gift.”

The owners of the franchise will make sure everyone on their list gets a gift, but most years, the community has been so generous that they haven’t had to buy additional gifts, said Abdul Muhammed, general manager of the local Home Instead office.

Last year, when Muhammed was picking up the tree at the end of the program, he encountered people who were disappointed that it was over and that they couldn’t give more to the seniors.

This year, it looks as though the program is just as popular.

“Even as we were putting the (paper) bulbs up, people were coming and getting them off (the tree),” Schieve said.

Jason Draves, assistant manager of store operations at Hy-Vee’s 8501 W. 95th St. store in Overland Park, also sees enthusiasm for the program from customers.

“The community really comes out and supports it. It’s a really great program to have,” Draves said.

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