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Brightening the season for seniors: Program seeks to alleviate holiday loneliness, isolation

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Deb Cranny, executive director of Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd, talks this week about the Be a Santa To A Senior program offered by the home care company to reach out with gifts to isolated seniors during the holidays. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video 2 / 2

While families gather over Christmas dinner or exchange gifts by the tree, many others spend the holidays alone.

Senior citizens are among the most vulnerable to loneliness during the Christmas season—sometimes homebound, isolated and with no families to visit. The Be a Santa to a Senior program seeks to spread holiday cheer to those in need, by encouraging volunteers to anonymously purchase gifts to be delivered to the seniors' homes.

"We do have a lot of focus on kids during Christmas," said Deb Cranny, executive director of the Brainerd location of Home Instead Senior Care, which runs the Santa program. "There's kids shows and things to go to, and the light shows and all of these things. But the seniors get ignored just a little bit and it can be a really depressing time of year, especially if they don't have family coming home. Most of them can't travel very much on their own, so it can be a very isolated time of year."

Cranny works with organizations in the area to develop a list of deserving seniors who have no idea they're set to receive a gift from a secret Santa. These include service groups, churches, social workers, assisted living facilities and others who work with seniors.

"What we do is solicit in the community for names of seniors that may not have any company over the holiday season, may not get a gift. (They're) very deserving, not necessarily only financially but also socially," Cranny said.

This year's list included more than 300, their names printed on ornaments decorating nine trees throughout Brainerd, Baxter and Crosby. Cranny said community response to the program is so great this year, people are asking for more names to buy gifts, and she doesn't have more to offer.

"Put it on your calendar for next year, we just need some more names," Cranny said.

Despite the demand for more names, there are still gifts needed to fulfill this year's requests. Their names can be found on the Be a Santa to a Senior trees, which will display gift needs through Dec. 15.

Cranny said the most rewarding part of the program is delivering the gifts to seniors' homes and experiencing the joy it brings.

"More than the gifts that are in these packages, the social connection is the most important part," Cranny said. "We've had so many people say, 'Somebody remembered me,' or 'Who's this from?' And it's just delightful to say it's just anonymous, it's just for you because you deserve it. So, that's one of the best parts."

Cranny recalled a woman who broke down into tears upon receiving a new lap blanket one year. "A lady had a very tattered lap blanket. In her present was a new, fuzzy blanket, and she started crying and threw her old lap blanket off, gave it to the person who delivered it to her, and put the new one right on. It's just kind of amazing how the gifts just seem to fit," she said.

For those interested in helping the program in other ways, Cranny said there are volunteer openings to assist with wrapping the gifts. Those interested may contact Home Instead Senior Care at 218-824-0077 for more information. Donations of gift wrapping supplies are also accepted at Home Instead, located at 108 S. Sixth St. in Brainerd.

Find a tree

Be a Santa to a Senior trees will be open to the public through Dec. 15 at the following locations in Brainerd, Crosby and Baxter:

• Home Instead Senior Care, 108 S. Sixth St., Suite 3, Brainerd.

• Guide Point Pharmacy, 108 S. Sixth St., Suite 1, Brainerd.

• Guide Point Pharmacy, 20 W. Main St., Crosby.

• Crow Wing County Community Services, 204 Laurel St., Brainerd.

• Black Bear Lodge and Saloon,14819 Edgewood Drive, Baxter.

• Caribou Coffee-East Brainerd Mall Location, 425 Eighth Ave. NE, Brainerd

• Caribou Coffee,15175 Edgewood Drive, Baxter.

• The Center, 803 Kingwood St., Brainerd.

• Edward Jones, Greg Bennett Office, 406 Washington St. W., Suite 3, Brainerd.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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