‘Seniors Still Believe’ trees give Johnson County seniors heart for holidays

Seniors who may have outlived their loved ones are at-risk for increased loneliness and depression during the holidays, research shows.

Johnson County Senior Services, or JCSS, wants to give those seniors a boost with a little bit of Christmas cheer through its Seniors Still Believe campaign.

The annual giving campaign seeks to give seniors who are alone during the holidays something to smile about by connecting them with folks who want to give them a few special gifts. The JCSS program was created out of necessity several years ago after two previous partnerships for a Christmas program dissolved, said Kimberly Smith, executive director.

“Seniors are truly the most underfunded, under-served, most unappreciated precious souls,” she said.

For the giving campaign, Senior Services put the names of local seniors in need and short wish lists on tags that are hung on Christmas trees at several locations around the county. Many of the seniors live in senior living communities or in Section 8 senior communities, Smith said.

Those who want to help can pick a name from Christmas trees set up at participating locations. Hosts this year include all of the Kroger stores in Johnson County; the Chick-Fil-A locations on County Line Road and inside the Greenwood Park Mall; The Carhartt store at the mall; Carpenter Realty in Greenwood; and the Whiteland Town Hall.

Last year, the program connected 2,500 seniors in need with gifts during the holiday season, an increase of 846 people from 2020. This year, the program is expected to give out that many gifts or more, she said.

Many of the seniors live in senior living communities or in Section 8 senior communities. There are people from all across the county that are in need, Smith said.

Each tag has a list of three to four things that the seniors need. People do not need to buy all the items requested, but it’s important for them to know what seniors need, Smith said.

The gifts seniors are asking for are not exorbitant, but rather little things taken for granted, such as warm socks, blankets or snacks. Though inexpensive, the gifts could make a difference for seniors, she said.

“They need to know that they matter,” Smith said. “They are alone, and many have no family, and so this is a way that they can feel like they’re still part of our community and that someone cares, which is priceless. That in itself is a priceless gift.”

One year after Christmas, a senior called to tell JCSS staff how thankful she was to receive a gift. The woman had been considering ending her life when someone knocked on her door, prayed with her and gave her a blanket, Smith said.

It was a reminder that someone cared.

“That is just an example of the power of what we do,” Smith said. “It wasn’t even about the need for a blanket, it was about her needing somebody to be there for her.”

Senior Services is still taking names for this year’s donation cycle. Anyone who knows a senior who has no family or will be alone during the holidays can nominate that person by emailing [email protected] or calling 317-738-4544.

Seniors can also nominate themselves, she said. The only information that will be gathered is their first name, last initial, veteran status and a list of 3-to-4 items they want for Christmas.

Gifts are due on Dec. 12, and can either be taken to the location where the tag was picked up, or to the JCSS office at 36 Tracy Road, New Whiteland.

There will still be opportunities to give after this though, as the need will continue to be present.

“Just (Thursday), I received a call from a senior living community that’s not even on the trees,” Smith said. “They have 69 residents that truly need a touch for Christmas.”

For those in need after the Dec. 12 deadline, they will receive gifts pulled from donated items that are dropped off at Senior Services. A lot of times people will drop off blankets, extra socks, hats or body wash, and then JCSS staff are able to pull items to take care of the needs that are continuing to come in, she said.

“People can just bring in items that are not assigned to a senior, and they will go continue to go out all through Christmas,” Smith said.

Along with clothing donations, people can also make financial donations to Senior Services in person, over the phone, or online at jcseniorservices.org. The organization’s goal is to help as many seniors as they can, she said.

“We are still so happy to help whoever might need just a little touch to remind them that they are special, that they are worthy and that we care,” Smith said. “They need to know that because so many seniors are still so isolated, and many feel like they’re a burden, and they’re a blessing instead.”