Getting older may sound great at age 8.

But add 60, 70, 80 years to that, and the idea seems less thrilling.

For some older folks whose spouses and friends have died or moved, whose family members aren’t nearby and whose finances or health are less than sunny, the Christmas holidays may seem cheerless.

Enter the “Be a Santa to a Senior” program.

This year, the Ellwood City office of Home Instead Senior Care partnered with local eldercare agencies and businesses. They provided presents to senior citizens who may otherwise not receive a gift for Christmas. Agencies in Lawrence and Mercer counties submitted names for the project.

Home Instead Senior Care, located at 315 Seventh St., provides nonmedical home care and companionship for older adults. Patty Neupauer said she and her son, Mike, co-owners of Home Instead, placed Christmas trees in ESB Bank offices in Ellwood City, Franklin Township and Lawrence Village Plaza and in Loccisano’s Golden Dawn supermarket. The trees were decorated with ornaments that featured the first names of needy or home-alone seniors with suggestions for gifts.

From Nov. 1 until this week, holiday shoppers chose an ornament, bought one of the suggested items listed and returned the gift unwrapped to the bank or store with the ornament attached.

Patty Neupauer said she was stunned by the generosity of the community. She said many people bought not one, but all of the items on the list of suggestions.

Mike Neupauer has been collecting the gifts from the sites. Volunteers have been gift wrapping the presents for distribution before Christmas.

Mike Neupauer said, “Be a Santa to a Senior” is more than a gift-giving project. The program is designed to help stimulate human contact and social interaction for seniors who are unlikely to have guests during the holidays.

He said he and his mother have been thrilled with the response to the program. This is the second year of the program but the first time it has been implemented locally. Last year, 7,000 volunteers distributed 96,000 gifts to about 53,000 needy senior citizens nationwide.

“This program is a way that we can give back to our community by providing gifts and companionship to our area’s older adults who have contributed so much,” Patty Neupauer said. “Our goal is to bring a little love and joy of the season into their lives.”

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