The spirit of Christmas is starting to fill the air as Office for the Aging staff prepare for the annual Holiday Bags for Solitary Seniors project. These bags go to seniors in Chautauqua County who otherwise would not receive a present or a visit at Christmas time. OFA started the project about 10 years ago with two OFA staff members and one dedicated church, and over the years it has evolved so that the entire OFA team, other county departments and many community partners are involved.
The first year about 20 boxes with small gift items and cookies were distributed, but the project has grown significantly in the last several years. Last year, the project passed out 165 bags with household items, small gifts including blankets and hand-knit items, along with homemade cookies and a holiday dinner.
Of course, OFA does not play Santa all alone. Since government funds cannot be used, OFA depends on the generosity and support of many organizations to put this project together. OFA wants to thank 2011 donors who include: Chautauqua Institution Hurlbut Church; Fredonia Methodist Church; Holy Trinity Church in Dunkirk; Beaver Club in Fredonia; Carriage House; Dunkirk Senior Center members; Dunkirk WWII Vets Club; Harvest Chapel Free Methodist Church; Frito-Lay Corp; Chautauqua County IDA; Dept. of Public Facilities and Landfill; DSS Cost Avoidance Unit; First Presbyterian Church in Dunkirk, Chautauqua County Federal Credit Union; Paws N Pals 4-H group; Kiwanis Beavers of Jamestown; RSVP; Chautauqua Region Quilt Guild; Health Department; Wal-Mart; Linda Burgess; Nancy Carmichael, Brian Coffaro; Jerry Jusko; Pat Pacos; Linda Hepler; Kathy Jordon; Brent Sheldon; Joanne Tofil; Ann Schlickter; and Kathleen Sullivan. Office for the Aging is not able to be "Santa" alone.
Pictured are Maureen Rovegno, M.Div., assistant director of religion at Chautauqua Institution, and the Rev. J. Paul Womack, pastor of Hurlbut Church. Assistance from many organizations and donors allows Office for the Aging to continue the annual Holiday Bags for Solitary Seniors project.
Every year OFA is amazed and empowered by the generosity of the community. Last year one Dunkirk church collected a huge truckload of items for the bags and then brought over 120 plates of Christmas cookies on the day the bags were being assembled. Another church partnered with a local grocery store to provide a complete ham Christmas dinner to be included in each of the bags. Local knitting groups made hundreds of hats, mittens, scarves and lap robes. There were individuals who just stopped by and dropped off many donations big and small. It all came together to make wonderful gift bags for many local solitary seniors. The contributions were humbling, and the opportunity to deliver the bags filled everyone who touched the project with belief in the Christmas spirit.
As OFA plans this year's Holiday Bags for Seniors, area residents are once again asked to help collect items such as small gifts, candy, nonperishable food items, and personal care items. OFA is also looking for volunteers to help deliver the bags to the seniors' homes the week before Christmas. Those who would like the opportunity to brighten the life of a senior in our community around the holiday are welcomed to participate on any level in this project. For more information on how to help with the Office for Aging Christmas Bags Project, contact Jane Morris at the office at 753-4479.