816 North

Becoming Santas to seniors, community shows its heart

When Betty Kluender delivered a present to another resident of her apartment building last year, she just thought she was helping with the Be a Santa to a Senior program organized by Home Instead Senior Care.

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,” Kluender said, describing herself and other residents of the Santa Fe Towers apartment building in Overland Park. “Some of us have family, some of us don’t. Some of us have money, some of us don’t.

“I have a large family, and I have a little money, so I’m one of the blessed ones.”

Kluender, president of the residents’ association at Santa Fe, has volunteered for three years with the program, which provides gifts to both Missouri and Kansas 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.’”

Home Instead’s Overland Park franchise office is partnering with local grocery stores 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 mid-December.

After that, Home Instead employees volunteer their time to wrap all of the presents and distribute them to the recipients.

Steve Boos, owner of the Liberty franchise, arranged to put trees up at four CVS stores in the Northland. He says he works with the county administrators of Clay and Platte counties to find people who might need to be on their list. This is the Liberty branch’s eighth year of participation.

“A lot of times people think about children in need of gifts at the holidays, which is great, but a lot of times seniors are forgotten,” Boos said. “It’s an opportunity to do something special for them.”

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 Home Instead offices in Overland Park and Grandview.

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 older adults.

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.

Often, the program meets practical needs.

One man in Kluender’s 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.

Schieve said many of the older adults want warm clothes.

“A lot of them are very lonely,” she said, “and this means the world to them that they get a gift.”