Operation Santas for Seniors expands reach; adds big-tickets items & kid-made cards

By Melissa Fili
MethuenLife Writer

The North Pole met its match last month, when the Methuen-based Operation Santas for Seniors took over Merrimack Golf Course’s Aurora Room.

“It was chaotic, but a good chaos! We had a goal of (helping) 500 and we slaughtered that. We bought gifts for 1,001 (seniors and veterans). I still have two gifts I need to deliver,” OSS founder Edna Leach laughed, two days before Christmas.

This is Year 3 for this grass-roots gift-giving program, which fulfills personal wish lists for seniors and veterans who don’t have family support. Leach works with nursing homes, rehab facilities and – this year – veterans programs, getting detailed lists of what people REALLY wish for, their sizes, favorite colors, etc. Volunteer “Santas” – including companies, charity groups and individuals – buy the gifts, with many being matched with more than one senior.

“Easily, 75 percent of seniors ask for hygiene products for Christmas presents. This is the one time a year they can get something they WANT. They have no family, so they can’t say, ‘Hey, I need a new pair of socks,’ ” explained Leach, a Methuen native and Methuen High alum. “It’s a great feeling (to help), but it’s also a sad feeling. These people have nobody.”

This year’s program came through with flying colors, including two extreme circumstances.

“We helped a couple people who were sent to a long-term care facility with nothing – basically what they were wearing. I assigned multiple people to them, We provided toiletries, towels, pajamas, underwear, long- and short-sleeve shirts, slippers, shoes – we wanted to make sure they had everything they needed. I’m told one man just cried – his Santas went above and beyond.”
One of the new groups that OSS supported is International Veterans Care Services, located in the lower level of St. Andrew’s Church in Methuen.

IVCS founder Kelly Frazier is thrilled to have teamed with this group.

“Miss Santa (Edna) came to IVCS and gave each veteran a wish list, saying they could each put 10 items on that list,” Frazier said. “We received 2 van-fuls of gifts! On Christmas Day, we’ll deliver the presents and lunch to each veteran – over 100 lunches. We are very grateful, very appreciative.”

“This year we had independent veterans, but they weren’t asking for a lot so some people were willing to buy them TVs, and (the recipients) will be happy when they open them,” Leach said. “We are able to provide 21 Build-a-Bear teddy bears for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, thanks to the Salem Lions Club. We handed them out at the Berkeley (Retirement Home). They were so appreciative. They even had a Name Your Teddy Bear contest.”
This year, the gifts will also come with a homemade card.

“All four Methuen elementary schools made cards, plus people at St. Michael’s, Sacred Heart, random Lawrence teachers and CCD teachers,” Leach said, about another personal touch her program provides.

The Dumais family of Windham, N.H., joined the effort for the first time this year, impressed with its mission – and its size.
Son Cameron entered the Aurora Room and his jaw dropped as he looked around.

“WHOA! Look at ALL the gifts!” he said, in awe.
Mom Jessica explained, “We already do Toys For Tots and wanted to do something new this year, in addition. It’s just a great opportunity to help others.”
Running this growing effort definitely isn’t easy. First, Leach’s matchmaking database – which pairs seniors with Santas – disappeared just before she e-mailed out the lists. Then, while loading, unloading and delivering gifts to their final destination, she injured her knee.

“It’s a great thing. I don’t mind the stress,” Leach laughed. “(Gift drop-off at the golf course) was overwhelming – so much generosity. Every year is it, but this year the presents were overflowing. Once people started showing up, they never stopped. There was never a lull – it was crazy.”

She thanks every person who helped make a difference in the life of a senior or veteran this year.




If you’d like to be involved with next year’s program, e-mail santasforseniorsmv@gmail.com.   To find out more, follow Edna Leach’s “Operation Santas for Seniors” page on Facebook.