‘Be a Santa to a Senior’ needs more Santas

Home Instead Senior Care’s vice president of marketing, Larry DeFrancisco and client relations manger Rae Short wrap gifts alongside volunteers at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover on Monday. The “Be a Santa for a Senior” gift drive is still about 1,500 gifts short of their target. (Delaware State News/

DOVER — Over the five years client relations manager at Home Instead Senior Care, Rae Short, has been coordinating her company’s “Be a Santa for a Senior” program, the number of seniors in need has grown from 1,500 to 4,000.

Ms. Short describes the program as sort of a Toys for Tots for Seniors.

“Home Instead started doing this over 15 years ago, the organization found out that a lot of our Senior don’t get anything during Christmastime,” said Ms. Short. “It’s just sad. We developed this nationwide program to distribute gifts to those seniors who might not be getting anything otherwise.”

As of Monday, the need is surpassing the supply substantially.

“We are about 1,500 gifts short right now,” Ms. Short said. “About 2,000 gifts are needed for Kent County, and the rest go to southern New Castle and Sussex counties.”

The rising need from Middletown down to the bottom of the state, which is the Dover and Lewes Home Instead’s territory, is likely due to several factors said Larry DeFrancisco, the company’s vice president of marketing.

Cape Henlopen Senior Center
City of Dover Library
Deakyne Dental Associates
Delmar Town Hall
Dover Mall
Home2 Suites
Home Instead Senior Care
Dover & Lewes
Modern Maturity Center
Nobel’s Pond Homes
Outlet Liquors
Patterson Schwartz
Greentree Location
Milford, Seaford & Rehoboth
Rehoboth Car Wash
ShureLine Electrical

“The rising need is because we’re finding more needy seniors that we weren’t aware of before, the general need in the area is rising and the senior tsunami coming in from all five neighboring states is playing a role,” said Mr. DeFrancisco. “It may be that mom and dad have been down here for 20 or 30 years and now dad passed away and mom is by herself. There are plenty of folks who just don’t have anyone, and we’re trying to help them have a Merry Christmas.”

Ms. Short initiates the process of locating needy seniors by reaching out to local organizations that can help direct the company to individuals who may benefit from a donation.

“We send out letters to various facilities, like nursing homes and assisted living communities, asking about their needy,” she said. “Meals on Wheels has helped us identify a lot of people who we can help. It works well to because on their routes they can bring a nice meal and a gift around Christmas right to the senior’s door.”

After the seniors are identified, the collection begins. Home Instead works with several local businesses and retail stores to help facilitate the purchase and distribution of gifts. Each business places a tree in their location decorated with “gift-request ornaments” from seniors. People interested in donating can remove an ornament, purchase the item requested and bring the ornament and gift back to the participating business.

“Donations of robes, hats, gloves, blankets and throw blankets are also great gifts,” said Ms. Short.

From there, program partners and volunteers will wrap and distribute the gifts to the local seniors. On Monday, Home Instead hosted its second of four “wrap parties” at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover. RSVP, a volunteer network for people age 55 and over, has supplied a large contingent of volunteers to this event for the past five years.

“Volunteers come to us from Modern Maturity’s RSVP, United Healthcare and plenty of other

Ms. Short rolls out the battle map of local agencies that still need to be collected for and crosses off milestones as the program hits them.

individuals and groups,” said Ms. Short. “And the General Manager at Home2 Suites, Cindy Price helps us so much by acting as our North Pole. We send all of our gifts to Home2 Suites and her and her staff do a great job organizing and categorizing everything.”

Pam Upchurch and Michelle Watson returned for their third year to help wrap gifts. They orginally attended as part of a United Healthcare team-building event. “United Healthcare is known for its volunteering,” said Ms. Upchurch. “We’ve just continued to get to know some of the seniors who come out to help every year and we just really enjoy helping so we keep coming back. It’s just a nice thing to do for others in need during Christmas.”

Over the course of the day, she said her and the other voluteers would wrap and bag hundreds of gifts.

“Each one takes a few minutes,” said Ms. Upchurch. “After awhile though, you go faster and faster because you’re getting the hang of it.”

The next wrap part, set for Wednesday, will be in the Cape Henlopen High School with the Leo Club, said Mr. DeFrancisco.

“Last year we contacted Cape Henlopen High School and asked how to get a message about the program to the students and they said come to the Leo Club which is the junior to the Lions Club,” he said. “So I went down last year during the first week of school, and I was thinking I’d be in a room with 20 kids, but 150 kids showed up, most even brought their parents. We asked for their help, they voted on it and it was a unanimous yes. About 75 kids showed up at last year’s wrap party and I have no doubt that even more will come this year.”

Mr. DeFrancisco and Ms. Short both earnestly ask the public to consider donating so the 1,500 gift still needed can be met. Although Christmas is rapidly approaching, gifts and cash donations will be accepted until Dec. 20.

“It is definitely is easier at this point, if people interested, to just donate cash,” said Ms. Short. “Be a Santa for a Senior is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) and we have sponsorships too.”

Donations may be sent to or dropped off at: BE A SANTA FUND, 753 Walker Road in Dover or to the Delaware Community Foundation at https://delcf.org. Gifts can also be dropped off at participating vendors, or Home2 Suites in Dover. Sponsors for the gift drive include this paper, Boscovs, Cowboy Up, Home2 Suites, Katie Bennett of Bennett Insurance Agency, Inc., Patterson Schwartz, Two Men and a Truck, WRDE-TV Rehoboth Beach.

Michelle Watson, left, and Pam Upchurch from United Healthcare participate in the “wrap party” at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover on Monday. They say they’ve been coming for the past three years, and by the end of the day they will have helped wrap hundreds of gifts.

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