Be a Santa to a Senior brings gifts to residents of care facilities

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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CAMAS — It’s not unusual for an ambulance to be parked outside Prestige Care and Rehabilitation in Camas, but the ambulance there Tuesday morning was a bit different.

It could’ve been the lack of a siren or blinking lights. Or, it could’ve been American Medical Response’s Kanessa Thompson and Melanie Eller, both wearing Santa hats, unloading a gurney filled with presents from the back of the ambulance.

Thompson, community relations coordinator, and Eller, administrative assistant, were there to assist with Home Instead Senior Care’s annual Be a Santa to a Senior program.

“People usually see us on the worst day of their life,” Thompson said. “We wanted people to see us in a different light and to give back.”

This is the first year the local American Medical Response employees worked on the Be A Santa program, Thompson said. Julie Williams, owner of the Home Instead Vancouver franchise, first hosted a Clark County Be A Santa drive in 2007, and then it dropped off for a few years. She brought in back in 2012, and it’s been going on every year since then.

Through the Be A Santa program, Williams and volunteers buy and deliver gifts to seniors at various low-income senior housing complexes and rehabilitation centers. This year, Williams got more requests than any previous year. Every day this week, she will deliver gifts with the ambulance service and volunteers around Clark County to seniors in places such as CDM Caregiving Services, Battle Ground HealthCare and the Cowlitz Tribe.

Williams received around 800 requests for gifts this year, most of which were filled by volunteers in the community. She said she ended up buying about 170 gifts to make sure all the requests were filled.

“They’re asking for necessities and/or a modest request, like a box of chocolates or place mats,” Williams said.

Other gifts requested this year were dog bones, bird seed, pork rinds, blankets, jackets and Seahawks gear.

“Our residents don’t all receive a lot of gifts or have a lot of family support,” said Kathy McAllister, activity director at Prestige Care. “This day is a great way for us to ask them what they want and for them to get personalized gifts.”

Earlier in the year, all the locations participating in the program receive a purple tree. The seniors hang ornaments with their names and wishes. Then, Home Instead delivers the gifts during a holiday party. At Prestige Care, staffers handed out Santa and elf hats and reindeer ears to residents to wear and sang songs.

Each year for Be A Santa, one resident dresses up as Santa and hands out the gifts. This year, Charlie Pharr dressed up as Santa and in a jovial, booming voice announced whom each gift was going to before walking around and joking with his fellow residents.

When Thompson, Eller, Williams and her husband, Brad Robins, walked into the party at Prestige Care, one resident gave them a big thumb’s up, hugged Thompson and posed for a picture with her.

“What’s nice about going to a place like this is everyone has so many great stories,” Eller said. “We get to hear all their stories and bring them some holiday cheer.”