Holiday cheer: 'Be a Santa to a Senior'


* The Bike Route, 655 U.S. 41 N.

* Cooper’s Farm Market, 285 U.S. 41 S.

* Mel’s Diner, 3650 U.S. 41 N. and 12035 Collier Blvd.

* Massage Envy, 2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 1102

* Moe’s Southwest Grill, 1016 Immokalee Road, Suite 202 and 6434 Naples Blvd. #402

* Patric’s, 1485 Pine Ridge Road #3

* Starbucks, 960 Immokalee Road, 769 Fifth Ave. S., 1 U.S. 41 S.

* Sunshine Pharmacy, 80 Wilson Blvd. S., 5482 Rattlesnake Hammock Road, 1400 Gulf Shore Blvd., 13020 Livingston Road, 6350 Davis Blvd.

* Sunshine Pharmacy-Palm Medical, 411 U.S. 41 N.

* Sweetbay Grocery Store, 5926 Premier Way

* Walgreen’s, 950 Immokalee Road

Bonita Springs, Estero

* Light House Bay Club at the Brooks, Lighthouse Bay Club

* Massage Envy-Coconut, 8001 Plaza Del Lago Drive

* Mel’s Diner, 28601 Trails Edge Blvd.

* Men’s Wearhouse, 23050 Via Villagio, Suite 101

* Moe’s Southwest Grill, 23050 Via Villagio, Suite 125

Fort Myers

* Bealls Outlet, 6900 Daniels Parkway and 15201 U.S. 41 N.

* Bear Rock Cafe, 15245 U.S. 41 S.

* Calusa Harbor, 2525 E. First St.

* Mel’s Diner, 4820 U.S. 41 S.

* Men’s Wearhouse, 9924 Gulf Coast Main St. #A110 and 4951 U.S. 41 S.

* Moe’s Southwest Grill, 13711 U.S. 41 S. and 10021 Gulf Center Drive #230

* Prudential Reality, 5001 Coconut Road

* Smoke-n-Pit, 1641 U.S. 41 N.

It’s hard to look forward to the holidays if you’re alone and think nobody will remember you.

So Southwest Florida nonprofit agencies and businesses are banding together to make sure that doesn’t happen to senior citizens in Collier and Lee counties.

The “Be a Santa to a Senior” program will make sure older residents have gifts for the holidays.

Holiday giving is often tied to children, but Sue and Bill Bidwell, owners of the Home Instead Senior Care Naples and Fort Myers franchise, said seniors, especially those who are isolated, love receiving thoughtful presents.

“Most people aren’t aware that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of seniors in every community who have no family and are alone,” Sue Bidwell said. “This program is also a way to show our gratitude to those older adults who have contributed so much to our community.”

Aside from providing a dose of holiday cheer, Sue Bidwell said, “Be a Santa to a Senior” is designed to help stimulate human contact and social interaction for older adults who are unlikely to have guests during the holidays.

Home Instead is partnering with several nonprofit agencies and local retailers again this year to present the program, which coordinates the collection, wrapping and delivering of the gifts to seniors.

Various organizations already have identified needy or isolated community seniors and provided their names to Home Instead.

Now, many local retailers are displaying Christmas trees decorated with ornaments listing seniors’ names — first names only — and the requested gifts. Holiday shoppers can select an ornament, purchase the gift listed on it and return it unwrapped, with the ornament attached, to the retailer where the tree is located.

Organizers will host a community wrapping event soon to get the presents ready for delivery to the seniors.

The program ends Dec. 11, so Home Instead encourages interested area residents to visit the participating retailers soon to select a senior to sponsor.

Last year, nearly 1,200 seniors received presents.

Bill Bidwell described the joy a senior experiences from receiving a holiday gift.

“There is little that compares with the thrill of watching a senior open a gift for which they have asked,” he said. “Each year we are amazed by the generosity of fellow Southwest Floridians who see an ornament on one of our trees and respond in faith to bless a senior.”

Julie Macarone of Citrus Gardens nursing home of Fort Myers said each December residents and staff members alike look forward to a visit from the “Be a Santa to a Senior” crew. Residents enjoy music and interaction during the delivery of presents.

“The gifts put smiles on the residents’ faces, and it is simply priceless,” she said.

Last year, for example, one senior from Heritage Health Care and Rehabilitation in Naples received a radio he plays all the time.

“When one of our residents who was the recipient of a radio opened his gift last year, he exclaimed, ‘How did they know just what I wanted?’ ” Heritage Health Care and Rehabilitation representative Pat Carson said.

Annalise Smith of Sunshine Pharmacy, one of the participants, calls the program a worthwhile one.

“Being a locally owned and operated business we appreciate the opportunity to give back to many of the elders in Collier County who have supported us over the years and Home Instead Senior Care is a colleague and partner in their care with us,” Smith said. “This is a fun and festive way to give of our time and resources and get our customers involved in philanthropy as well.”

Various community partners are assisting in the program, including Grace Works Unlimited, a Southwest Florida nonprofit.

“No one should have to feel alone during the holidays and this is such a fun community service program,” Grace Works Unlimited Executive Director Audra Iler said. “The grace of gift-giving is one way we as a community can show a senior that someone is thinking of them — someone cares.”

For more information about “Be a Santa to a Senior”: Sue Bidwell at (239) 596-2030 or

E-mail Kelly Merritt at

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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