Volunteers spread Christmas ‘CHEER’ to homebound seniors

GEORGETOWN – Thanks to volunteers and community support, several hundred homebound seniors in Sussex County received a taste of home and personal holiday cheer on Christmas Day.

CHEER’s Operation Christmas Cheer brought a small army of volunteers to CHEER’s kitchen/headquarters base in the Thurman Adams State Service Center. There, they teamed with CHEER staff in special delivery of hot Christmas meals, gifts and holiday greetings to 286 seniors.

CHEER is a licensed, bonded, and insured Personal Assistance Service agency. This annual Christmas event, now in its 26th year, has grown over the years.

“Oh, my goodness, I have never seen so much response from the community,” said Florence Mason, CHEER’s Nutrition program director. “Everybody, all over the county has stepped up to the plate.”

Dennis and Lori Winzenried of Georgetown were among the approximately 90 volunteers who made special deliveries to the homebound on Christmas morning. This was their second year serving as CHEER’s Christmas elves.

“We’ve become involved in the community, getting to know a lot of the people. In May of 2017 my mom passed away. So, they lived in Vermont. My dad was still up there. It was just a way of kind of reconnecting since we don’t have any immediate family here,” said Mr. Winzenried.

“It was so great doing it we decided to do it again. Unfortunately, we also lost my dad in October. So, having been through it with having elderly parents who didn’t necessarily have everybody around them we wanted to be able to give back a little bit and just share the holiday with someone who might not have somebody to share it with.”

“It’s something to do on Christmas Day. It’s more than just presents,” said Ms. Winzenried.

This was the first year as Operation Christmas Cheer elves for Frank and Kathy Perdue.

“I used to deliver Meals on Wheels when I was in banking. But our brother-in-law, he delivers meals and he asked us to come,” sad Mr. Perdue.

“It’s a good thing to do,” said Ms. Perdue.

CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock said CHEER is so fortunate for “Santa’s elves who come out every year” to make deliveries.

“This is a generational thing for a lot of families. We have families that have been coming here for years and made this part of their Christmas tradition. We have had children growing up with this as part of their tradition,” said Mr. Bock. “We are so blessed and fortunate as an organization to have so many committed people that come out — on Christmas morning — to help make a brighter Christmas Day for people who don’t have anything.”

In addition to the 90 or so delivery volunteers, others were on a standby on-call list, in the event they were needed, Ms. Mason said.

In some, perhaps many cases, volunteers making deliveries would prove be the only human contact with homebound seniors.

“And, actually wish them a Merry Christmas,” said Mr. Bock. “Literally, I say, our volunteers are delivering Christmas for people.”

Deliveries, holiday greetings and conversation were part of the game plan of Dave and Dian McMahon and Dan Stevens, who teamed up for four deliveries in the Georgetown area.

“We’re not just going to fly by,” said Ms. McMahon.

“They like to talk,” said Mr. McMahon.

A grant from the Mid-Del Foundation covered the cost of the holiday meals, which consisted of hot turkey, ham, dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, a sweet potato biscuit and apple pie.

Gender-appropriate gifts were part of the delivery.

The gift list featured 145 Mary Kay cosmetic gift bags, hats, socks, gloves and scarves donated by the JROTC Raven Battalion, gifts through efforts facilitated by Meineke Car Care, Kmart, County Bank, three area McDonald’s restaurants, members of CHEER centers in Greenwood, Milton, Long Neck and Ocean View and Tabatha Circle of Georgetown Presbyterian Church.

Deliveries included personalized Christmas cards handmade by students at Long Neck Elementary School.

A Giving Tree at Rehoboth Kmart produced gifts for the 35 “most needy” seniors, Ms. Mason said.

Patrons and employees at County Bank’s Georgetown and Long Neck branches filled two huge sleighs provided by CHEER board member Walter Koopman with gifts, which required not one but two trips by Mr. Koopman with his truck.

“People came out of the woodwork and just poured out their hearts to us,” said Ms. Mason. “And people stopped by and donated money contributions. It was used to offset any expenses we had. We also had people crochet afghans.”

Decorative poinsettias were provided by the Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford.

In addition, fruit/food baskets in partnership with Mountaire were delivered in advance on Dec. 19.

Food for Christmas dinner was prepared in advance by CHEER’s kitchen staff, stored in coolers and reheated Christmas morning. Insulated coolers were the norm to keep dinners hot and ready.

“We always bring it back up to temperature before we send it out,” said CHEER kitchen staffer Harry Cannon.

Operation Christmas Cheer does not forget seniors’ pets. A grant and a generous donation from a local organization provided dog and cat food. “This came about probably about 10 years ago. My outreachers would come back and say, ‘It broke my heart today; the person’s meal tray was down at the dog’s (dish area). They ate half and gave the other half to the dog,’” said Ms. Mason. “We said, ‘OK, this is it. If we are going to feed a senior, we’ve got to feed their pets.’ We actually do pet food several times throughout the year.”

Next year, Operation Christmas Cheer 2019, will mark Ms. Mason’s last as an employee of CHEER. She plans to retire Dec. 25, 2019.

“On Christmas morning next year, I will do my last day of work,” she said. “I’ve got daughters and grandchildren that are going to escort me out. I will have been with the company for 27 years.”


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