The ornaments keep disappearing from the Christmas tree in the food court at Rotterdam Square.
But that’s a good thing.
The tree was put there by Home Instead Senior Care’s Schenectady office, and each ornament on it bears the wish of a senior citizen who might not otherwise receive a Christmas gift.
Mall visitors are encouraged to take an ornament, purchase the gift listed on it and return it, unwrapped, along with the ornament, to the mall’s information desk.
The Be a Santa to a Senior tree is easy to spot, but finding an ornament on it might be a challenge. Program organizer Jason Lee said they were completely wiped out within a week of the initiative’s Nov. 21 start date. He immediately sought out 20-plus more names of needy seniors and put their wishes on the tree. Now those are almost gone too.
“People are taking the ornaments off two or three at a time,” Lee said, noting that donors are dropping off gifts just as quickly.
Even when there are no ornaments to be found, donors are still showing up with gifts that any senior might enjoy.
The names featured on the tree were obtained from Dayhaven Adult Day Services and Schaffer Heights Senior Apartments, both in Schenectady, and Holyrood House Apartments in Scotia.
Donated gifts that aren’t purchased for a specific senior will also be distributed at those sites to elderly people who could use a little holiday cheer.
“From what we’re doing here and the way I’m tracking numbers, it sounds like it’s a huge need,” Lee said.
According to the United States Census Bureau, there were 3.5 million senior citizens living in poverty in 2010.
Although there are state and federal programs that assist with seniors’ basic living expenses, their personal desires and needs often fall by the wayside due to a lack of funds, Lee said.
Joan Richardson, activity coordinator at Dayhaven, a program that serves many seniors who live on fixed incomes, agreed.
“Did you ever try to live on Social Security?” she asked.
Holiday gifts of homemade cookies or nice-smelling hand lotion will always be met with delight, and practical items like a warm sweater, gloves or a hat are excellent choices as well, Richardson said.
“They’re very appreciative of things like that and they’re at the stage in their life where the color is pretty, it’s warm and, ‘Oh, feel how nice that is.’ They appreciate everything about it rather than that it’s just going to keep them warm,” she said.
Blankets and candy are also excellent gift ideas for seniors, said Roz Hurley, co-owner of Home Instead. “Some of them ask for food and coffee because they are low on food,” she noted.
In addition to granting wishes and meeting basic needs, the Be a Santa to a Senior program serves as a means to spread joy. “Our goal is to get a genuine smile on a senior’s face when they are surprised with a gift this holiday season,” Lee said.