Operation Christmas CHEER delivers to Sussex seniors

CHEER employee Andrea Miller, right, helps volunteers select gifts to take to seniors at last year’s Operation Christmas CHEER. Delaware State News file photo

GEORGETOWN — For most people, Christmas is a festive time for family gatherings, holiday feasts, celebrations and joy.

Others are not as fortunate.

For some of those, there’s Operation Christmas CHEER, which aims to deliver holiday cheer to the needy homebound senior citizens across Sussex County.

Around 10 a.m. on Christmas morning, a small army of volunteers will gather at CHEER’s base in the Thurman Adams State Service Center on U.S. 113.

Vehicles will be loaded with care packages that include hot meals prepared by CHEER’s nutrition staff, fruit baskets, nonperishable food, poinsettias and for those with animals, pet food and pet toys. There also are cosmetic bags filled with Mary Kay goodies.

Each delivery to a homebound senior will include a Christmas card created by an area elementary school student.

Operation Christmas Cheer is a community-wide effort made in the joy of giving.

“There is a lot of involvement,” said Florence Mason, nutrition supervisor for CHEER. “Operation Christmas a whole lot more. It’s phenomenal.”

This year, McDonald’s restaurants in Michael Meoli’s franchise chain have come on board through an employee gift-giving campaign.

County Bank in Long Neck and Meineke Car Care in Lewes both have gift trees with invites for donations of gifts for seniors from customers.

There was a gift-giving verdict in Sussex County’s court system. Courthouse employees collected gifts, in conjunction with tree and snowman decorating contests on each of the three floors of the courthouse, Ms. Mason said.

Near the lobby entrance of the CHEER Community Center is a huge sleigh for gift donations.

“Our board of directors and all of the community that comes in utilizes the center, they donate wrapped gifts,” said Ms. Mason.

Through monthly meetings, Coastal AARP members donated gifts in support the effort by CHEER, a local nonprofit that serves more than half of Sussex County’s seniors.

And there are other supporters, who wish to remain anonymous, Ms. Mason said.

The gift-collecting effort at eight McDonald’s restaurants is employee-based.

“The whole idea behind it is for employees to take ownership of it. It is their campaign. So, we want them to be successful and feel really good about what they are doing,” said CHEER Marketing Director Anthony DelFranco.

Last year, CHEER and its volunteers delivered more than 250 hot turkey dinners, wrapped gifts and poinsettias Christmas morning.

As of Dec. 14, there were 252 seniors signed up for this year’s Operation Christmas CHEER.

“It will go up,” said Ms. Mason.

An undertaking of this magnitude calls for a monster wrap session. Enter the Dublin Hill 4-H Club and students from Woodbridge FFA, Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania and Delaware Technical Community College. They met Thursday, Dec. 21 at the State Service Center for a gift-wrapping session.

“It is an inter-generational activity. They come in and help us every year,” said Ms. Mason.

In addition, students will finalize 40 food boxes containing a roaster chicken from Mountaire Farms.

After identifying clients in need, outreach workers delivered those food boxes on Thursday.

Pets are not forgotten in the holiday giving campaign.

“… We identify anyone who has a pet. We’ll bring some pet food, whether it is a cat or dog. Some volunteers donate pet toys. We’ll deliver those as well,” said Mr. DelFranco. “Pets are on the Christmas list.”

On Christmas Day, upward of 100 volunteers are expected to help spread CHEER’s holiday cheer. Their deliveries include more than food and gifts.

“The beautiful thing about this, too, is this program has been going on for over 25 years now. And it has gone generational,” said Mr. DelFranco. “Many of the people who are delivering meals today were going with their parents 20 years ago, and now they are bringing their kids to deliver meals on Christmas Day.”

“They usually spend a little bit of time with the person that they are dropping the meal off to — a little conversation and just sharing Christmas spirit and Christmas joy,” said Mr. DelFranco. “Many of the people we are delivering to, they don’t have family in the area, or they are not going to be going anywhere for Christmas. They could be physically homebound so the people they see on Christmas Day may be the only people that they see that day.”

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