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Willmar, Minn., program encourages local community to remember seniors this holiday season

WILLMAR -- Last Christmas, an elderly man in the area prepared to spend the holidays alone. His family lived far away and wouldn't be able to visit him, and he didn't have many close friends. He was surprised, then, when he received a Christmas gift from an anonymous donor in the community -- the only one he received that year.

These generous acts are what the Be a Santa to a Senior program is all about, said Sheri Nordmeyer, program director of the Willmar Community Senior Network, which participates in the program.

This is the third year of the area's Be a Santa to a Senior program, sponsored by Home Instead Senior Care. The program aims to provide gifts and companionship to seniors who may not receive either this holiday season.

This year, local nonprofits and organizations chose around 65 lonely or isolated seniors to receive gifts.

Once the seniors were identified, a Christmas tree was set up at the Walgreens in Willmar that features ornaments with the first names of the seniors and their gift requests.

Holiday shoppers have until Monday to pick up an ornament, buy items on the list and return them unwrapped to the store, along with the ornament attached. Most of the ornaments, however, have already been taken, according to Margaret Kotula, community service representative for Home Instead Senior Care in Willmar and St. Cloud.

"This year, the program has been very successful," Kotula said. "People are very generous, and the response has been great. It's really a community event."

Kotula said that around the holidays, seniors can often be forgotten or left behind.

"Whether they're in facilities or their families are far away, many seniors are in need of a little extra cheer during the holiday season," she said. "They are so appreciative of the gift they receive. It really does bring a smile to their face."

When Nordmeyer delivers the gifts to the seniors, she sees those smiles for herself.

"When they receive their gift, they know that somebody bought this because they cared," Nordmeyer said.

"It's great to see the community remembering the seniors over the holidays. Never underestimate a kind act and what it can mean to somebody."

In addition to purchasing gifts, volunteers are also needed to wrap the gifts, Kotula said. A community gift wrapping will take place Dec. 20 at Independence Place in Willmar.

For more information on volunteering, call Home Instead Senior Care at 320-222-2273.

Be a Santa to a Senior

How to help: Through Monday, people can pick up an ornament at the Walgreens in Willmar, buy the items on the list and return the unwrapped gift to the store. Volunteers are also needed to wrap the gifts Dec. 20 at Independence Place in Willmar. For more information, call Home Instead Senior Care at 320-222-2273.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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