By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
“Christmas for a Senior” is in its fourth year as a program sponsored by the Sauk Centre location of Alternative Senior Care, a regional organization providing compassionate care to seniors in their homes.
Alternative Senior Care offers companion care and homemaking services to seniors in the comfort of their own homes, in Douglas, Pope, Stearns, Todd and Morrison counties.
The Christmas program began in 2009 in the Sauk Centre office as an activity called Santa for Seniors.
“Within our client base, we identified 15 seniors who would spend the holidays isolated and alone,” said Community Relations Coordinator Mike Karasch. “These were folks who either had no family or whose family is dysfunctional or is scattered and cannot make it home for Christmas.”
Donations were collected that first year from office staff and management and dedicated caregivers, and meaningful gifts were purchased.
Continuing the tradition in 2010, a larger outreach to the Sauk Centre area was done through letters to local businesses, flyers, newspaper ads and word of mouth. Donations of $2,078 were given.
“We reached out to local churches, Stearns County Social Services, local senior facilities and our staff to identify individuals who would be alone,” said Karasch. “We were able to brighten the holidays for 40 seniors.”
In 2011, 42 seniors were served.
Starting in 2012, the program was renamed “Christmas for a Senior” due to the similarity to another organization’s name. The program has also been extended to include people in the Melrose area.
“As my kids were growing up, I noticed the Christmas season being so much about commercialization — it’s not the reason for the season,” Karasch said. “With this program we give back to the community and the seniors we serve.”
The program reaches out to those who have little family, or the family they have is broken.
“I have a large family and it breaks my heart to see people who are alone at the holidays,” said Karasch. “A gift we gave in 2010 meant so much to one of the recipients that last year she volunteered to wrap gifts.”
Karasch’s wife, Cindy, dropped off a gift last year that included a treat for the person’s pet. “It meant an awful lot to her; she was teary-eyed knowing that someone would actually think about her pet,” Karasch said.
Jean Garbett, who volunteered with wrapping duties last year, said, “I love what they do and I enjoyed helping wrap the gifts.”
“It was very satisfying knowing I was helping someone who was going to be alone,” said volunteer Karen Massman. She donated, shopped and wrapped gifts. “It was fun to do — to make a difference.”
“It was fun, rewarding, and fulfilling to be able to purchase needed and extra items that the person would not have bought for themselves,” said shopper Gretchen Jennissen. “To know the gifts would bring joy and warmth to them and hopefully through that they would recognize that they are important, too.”
Some of the things purchased are blankets, shirts, pajamas and gourmet foods.
“We can only do this through the help of generous individuals,” Karasch said. “We are asking folks to consider a tax-deductible donation, no matter how large or small. It will make a difference in the life of a senior this Christmas season.”
A fund has been established at First State Bank in Sauk Centre to receive donations.
Nominations of seniors in Sauk Centre, Melrose or the surrounding areas who would benefit from the program are still being accepted.
Anyone willing to give their time to shop, wrap and/or deliver gifts can call for more information at (866) 352-3350.