Christmastime can make some of the area's seniors feel isolated or alone.
Some rarely get visitors during the holiday season and many do not receive gifts, said Debbie Bauleke, community service manager for Home Instead Senior Care.
"Many of the seniors do not have family members of their own or family members in the area," Bauleke said. "The holiday season can be a lonely time for them."
The nationwide Be a Santa to a Senior program, put on locally by Home Instead Senior Care, encourages residents to respond to this need by buying gifts for the elderly or sitting with them as they open their presents, Bauleke said.
Be a Santa to a Senior reaches out to hospital discharge planners, public health staff and churches to find senior citizens who may not receive any gifts or visitors during the holiday season.
The seniors in turn fill out forms requesting gifts and a visit from a Home Instead volunteer during the holiday season.
The program, in its second year in Mankato, has almost doubled since it was started.
"Last year we served 80 seniors in the area between St. Peter, Mankato and Waseca," Bauleke said. "This year we've received the names of 170 seniors."
Each senior's gift requests are written on paper ornaments which are then hung on Christmas trees placed at local businesses.
Those who wish to donate gifts take the ornaments from the trees, purchase the items listed upon them and return them.
Volunteers then collect, wrap and deliver the gifts to area seniors.
Typical gifts include chocolate, slippers, word puzzles, Sudoku books, lap robes, stationary, coffee, lotion and similar item.
Donations are accepted until Dec. 16. A gift wrapping party will take place from Dec. 17.
Bauleke, who delivered several of the gifts herself last year, said the program is a good way to reach out to area seniors.
"It's fun to be part of the program and it's also just so heartwarming to be a party of wrapping the gifts and delivering them," Bauleke said. "Each senior I visited last year was so surprised. They enjoyed the visit and unwrapping the gifts. And more than once I heard 'I can't believe you came to see me.'"
Kristine Harmon, marketing director at Good Samaritan Society - St. Peter, has been involved with the program and has worked to help identify local seniors who could use the extra holiday cheer.
“I think it’s a wonderful program," she said. “It’s wonderful to see that people are going out there and buying gifts for the seniors.”
She said Be a Santa to a Senior directly benefits those seniors who don't have family nearby and spend the holidays alone.
"Some families live a little closer and come here more often and bring gifts," she said. "And some [of the seniors' families] aren't around or aren't living. Those are the seniors that probably need gifts."
Reach reporter Jessica Bies at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @sphjessicabies