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Be a Santa to a Senior program, with gift tags with names of area senior citizen1 / 3
Organizers said the simple gift wishes from area senior citizens were remarkable2 / 3
Baxter Elementary School students decorated brown bags donated by Rohlfing of Br3 / 3

Last Christmas, an elderly woman in an assisted living facility was excited to show visitors a beautiful handmade quilt on her bed.

The hand-tied quilt had little flowers on it.

It was the only gift she received for the holiday. She told a social worker who checked on her that she must have been named senior citizen of the year to get such a gift. The social worker didn't try to change her mind.

And it all came because someone picked her name off a giving tree.

The holidays may be a lonely time for people, but an effort in the lakes area is trying to change that for area senior citizens. Giving trees list names of senior citizens and gift ideas.

Last year, the first year for the Be a Santa to a Senior program, volunteers delivered 369 gifts. The program took gifts to seniors whether they were alone, or in need, or maybe wouldn't be visited by family this year, or because they were someone who would just love a gift to be part of the holidays. The effort was so effective it grew.

This year, there are 585 names on giving trees at 15 lakes area sites in Brainerd, Baxter, Crosby and Crosslake.

Many of the suggestions for gifts include mittens, personal care items, or grocery cards or gift cards.

"I think that's why people enjoyed buying for the ornaments," said organizer Deb Cranny, Home Instead executive director, of the simple gift requests. Be a Santa to a Senior is sponsored by Home Instead Senior Care of Brainerd but includes names of seniors from around the community.

Volunteers came from area churches and individual families who included their children in the one day delivery effort. Cranny said those delivering gifts came back with tears in their eyes. "The recipients of the gift were so appreciative," Cranny said.

With so many names on the trees this year, Cranny hopes residents will be able to be generous. Gifts may be dropped off at the tree site until Wednesday. Gifts will be wrapped and then delivered Dec. 21. For the senior recipients, the gift comes as a surprise that day.

Last year, Baxter Elementary School children decorated brown bags donated by Rohlfing of Brainerd to create the gift bags. Cranny said the seniors loved the bags.

"That was a pretty fun part, too," she said.

For more information, go online to Gift tree locations in Brainerd include: Crow Wing County Social Services, GuidePoint Pharmacy, Home Instead Senior Care, Lakes Area Senior Center, Madden's Resort, North Central Medical Supply, Salon Nouveau, Woodland Good Samaritan Society. Gift trees in Baxter include: Black Bear Lodge & Saloon, Edward Jones (next to Edina Realty), Sears. In Crosby, the giving tree is at Heartwood Senior Living. In Crosslake, sites include: Crosslake Presbyterian Church, Golden Horizon Assisted Living, and Mission of the Cross Lutheran Church.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.