"Be a Santa to a Senior" provides gifts, connection to those who live alone

All Hy-Vee locations have a "Be a Santa" tree. It's trimmed with ornaments featuring Christmas wishes for area seniors.

A tree sits at the customer service desk at the Collins Road Hy-Vee. It’s unassuming, but has a big job.

"We have over 800 seniors in our community getting a gift this season," says Karen Huber. She’s the franchise owner for Home Instead, which provides non-medical care to seniors living alone in Linn County.

The three-foot evergreen is a giving tree of sorts, trimmed with Christmas wishes for strangers known only by their first name. Huber is at the Hy-Vee, collecting some of those wishes granted by shoppers.

"As you can see by the gifts coming in, people are very generous," she says. She carries out two carts full on this trip.

For the past 15 years seniors in the Cedar Rapids area -- more than 5,000 of them -- have felt the generosity of the community thanks to these giving trees, spread out at local businesses.

Through Home Instead's “Be a Santa to a Senior” program, Christmas magic has been granted in the form of over 8,000 presents. Firefighters from Marion and Cedar Rapids will play Santa's helper, as they've done since 2003. They deliver the presents gathered by the community.

The gifts are usually simple: wind chimes for Kathy, a gift card for Rob. For Nate – socks in size large.

"Underwear, socks, scarves, mittens,” Huber lists some of the popular requests. “Some of your necessities."

Little things. But to those living alone, the gesture itself is a gift.

"They may not have any family at all or the family they have live out of state," Huber says.

But it's about more than the things received.

Huber explains it’s about, "The touch, that human touch of somebody coming in and seeing them for the holidays."

It’s easy to see that’s the type of thing that makes you feel like a kid at Christmas.

"To see that joy brought back to them, to relive that joy of Christmas that Santa remembered me still, it's really a very touching moment,” Huber says. “We've had many seniors brought to tears."

Unwrapped gifts are due back by December 12th. You can find wish list trees at the following locations:

Cedar Rapids area Hy-Vee stores

KMRY Radio Station, 1957 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

Premier Investments of Iowa, 3600 1st Ave NE #100, Cedar Rapids

Linn County Offices, 935 2nd St SW, Cedar Rapids

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 788, 3240 Southgate PL SW, Cedar Rapids

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