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Be a Santa to a Senior program brings hope, joy to local seniors

Todd, left, daughter Annie, and wife Lizzie O’Neill wrap presents on Monday morning for the Be a Santa to a Senior program hosted by Home Instead Senior Care. The program connects community members with local seniors who otherwise would not receive a gift for Christmas.
Todd, left, daughter Annie, and wife Lizzie O’Neill wrap presents on Monday morning for the Be a Santa to a Senior program hosted by Home Instead Senior Care. The program connects community members with local seniors who otherwise would not receive a gift for Christmas. lgiles@gateline.com

When Todd O’Neill decided to retire in 2014 from his position as area director for Young Life, he knew he was too young to retire completely.

So when he and his wife, Lizzie, heard that the local Home Instead Senior Care franchise was for sale, the couple knew that purchasing this 10-year-old franchise was their next step.

“I went from young life to older life,” O’Neill said of his change in demographics. “My wife and I are helping families in a different way.”

In addition to the year-round range of senior assistance offered by Home Instead, the company also hosts a special program for the holidays: Be a Santa to a Senior.

People forget that seniors need stuff too

Barbara Seiber

This Be a Santa program connects community members with seniors who would not otherwise receive gifts during Christmas.

Barbara Seiber, office manager for Home Instead, has been organizing the Be a Santa to a Senior program since 2008.

“People forget that seniors need stuff too,” she said.

Seiber reaches out to local senior care facilities to ask for a list of their 20 to 25 neediest seniors — typically individuals who don’t have family or much money. She then provides gift details to the “Santas” from the community who are eager to sponsor a senior — details such as favorite colors, clothing sizes or specific requests.

A lot of the gift requests, Seiber said, are items such as warm pajamas and lap blankets.

“They’re cold (and want) stuff to keep them warm,” she said.

O’Neill is thoroughly enjoying his first year participating in this Santa program.

It’s a little bit of Christmas joy to seniors who (often) have little hope...we just deliver a little hope.

Todd O’Neill

“Some seniors have really fun requests,” he said, adding that one request this year came from a Hulk Hogan fan, who asked for an action figure. “It’s a little bit of Christmas joy to seniors who (often) have little hope ...we just deliver a little hope.”

Home Instead offices are located in Bremerton with a client base ranging from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to the Hood Canal Bridge, with several clients located in Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula.

“It’s a large territory,” O’Neill said. He and his family live in Gig Harbor — where Lizzie works as a stylist at Rebel’tude Salon & Spa.

Home Instead is a national company that provides non-medical care to seniors that is designed to help them remain in their own homes for as long as possible.

“It’s been a joy to really help families,” O’Neill said. “It’s a really wonderful company...(that) really parallels what I did in my ministry.”

As for the Be a Santa program, O’Neill said that Seiber is the heart behind the program.

“This is her baby,” he said. “My hat’s off to her.”

Seiber — who has had a passion for working with older adults since she was a teenager —looks forward to this program every year.

“I love doing it,” she said. “It’s my favorite thing to do every year.”

O’Neill is eager to make more connections with local senior care facilities and to gather more names for the Be a Santa program for 2016.

“We had more sponsors this year than seniors,” he said. “We’re confident we can find the sponsors if we get the seniors.”

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea

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