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Frank Gray

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Joan Black, director of services for Home Instead Senior Care, is looking for people to donate Christmas gifts for seniors. People can donate money or buy items listed on cards on Chritsmas trees at area Walgreens.

Gift push for seniors lagging

The holidays are approaching, and just about every organization that exists is having its annual holiday push.

There’s the Christmas Bureau for low-income or financially stressed families, food banks, Goodwill, the SPCA and the city animal shelter. The Salvation Army has its bell ringers, churches collect winter coats, and lots of so-so charities work the phones, trying to get people to donate to specialty causes.

Private companies get into it, too. There’s a chain out there called Home Instead Senior Care that provides in-home care to seniors, and a few years ago, it launched a program called Be a Santa To a Senior.

The pitch is that 27 percent of people 65 and older are widowed and nearly 12 million people 65 or older live alone, and when the holidays come, a lot of them find themselves alone, often with no one to remember them.

So the company teamed up with organizations that serve seniors – Adult Protective Services, Homebound Meals, Aging and In-Home services and volunteers – to identify seniors who don’t get much attention over the holidays.

“We got names from the agencies and wish lists and put them on paper ornaments,” said Tim Myers, director of outreach for the local Home Instead operation.

Then it teamed with Walgreens, where it put up little trees with the ornaments and requests. Last year trees were only placed in Fort Wayne stores, but this year the program was extended to Walgreens in some outlying cities, 23 stores in all.

If you know much about seniors, their gift requests aren’t too extravagant. They don’t ask for Kindles or laptops, 60-inch high-def TVs or bundles of cash.

They often ask for pretty basic stuff – slippers, socks, sweatshirts or robes, maybe a sweater, the kind of things that can keep them warm. It is winter, after all.

Some ask for things like candy, music, books, and toiletries, such as lotions, the kind of stuff most of us would view as not to special and grab for ourselves.

“Their needs get pretty basic, I guess,” said Myers.

In the past, the gift gathering has gone well. Plenty of items were donated and volunteers got together in mid-December to sort and wrap them and get them to their intended recipients.

But this year it’s different. “It’s struggling this year,” Myers said. We’re told that 240 seniors have put in requests but only 56 gifts have been purchased.

Myers isn’t sure why. Maybe it’s the economy. Black Friday was down this year. Or maybe it’s lack of promotion. Last year there were a lot of public service announcements in the media, but that didn’t happen this year, and gift giving is lagging.

That concerns Myers. The gift gathering, which started last month, ends on Friday, so there are only three or four days left.

Old people who have no one left do get forgotten, sometimes. Maybe a little reminder that they’re out there is important.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.