By David Luter
What started out as a single box of donations seven years ago, has grown into a program that served 1,480 Kern County seniors last Christmas.
Bakersfield Police Department's Christmas for Seniors program has one goal in mind: To make life a little easier for the elderly in our community by providing basic everyday items that seniors cannot afford to purchase.
Address: East Hills Mall, 3000 Mall View Road, Suite 1125 (west end near Hope Christian Book Store)
Facebook search: Bakersfield Christmas For Seniors
1. Two-ply toilet paper
2. Dryer fabric softener sheets
3. Shaving cream, disposable razors
4. Cleaning supplies
5. Quality shampoo, cream rinse and lotions
6. Body soap, deodorant, powder
7. Paper towels
8. Laundry detergent
9. Lip balm, lipstick and make-up
11. Brushes and combs
12. Hand sanitizer
Dec. 3: Deadline to have gifts back to adoption sites, East Hills Mall or the Bakersfield Police Department
Dec. 5: 5 p.m. Community gift wrap at churches at East Hills Mall
Dec. 8: 5 p.m. Community gift wrap at East Hills Mall
Dec. 10 to Dec. 16: Delivery of gifts to the centers and individual homes
This program focuses on providing seniors products that most people take for granted -- items like two-ply toilet paper, books, bedding and food are often a luxury item to them.
The gifts are distributed to low-income, homebound or isolated seniors, especially veterans.
Sandy Morris, BPD's community relations specialist, started the program after doing several "Stay Safe in the Neighborhood" presentations. That program connected her with seniors in and around Bakersfield, and she learned that quite a few of them do without some of the most basic needs. And they never ask for anything.
Where is the program headquartered?
Initially, the program was started at the Bakersfield Police Activities League hall, but it soon grew too big to operate the program from, so the program was moved to the Carriage House Estates, which as of last year, also became too small. This year, the program has a new home at the East Hills Mall, which was generously provided by the mall management. All wrapping, sorting and preparing is taking place at Santa's Workshop from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday this season.
Who can help?
Everyone can help, and sponsors are needed. The BPD, PG&E, Tel-Tec, Albertsons and The Bakersfield Californian are but a few of the generous sponsors that have helped in this endeavor every year. Albertsons sells "Turkey Bucks," and the money generated from the turkey dollars is used to make a complete turkey dinner that is then delivered to the seniors. Last year, Albertsons was able to give 900 Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to seniors in need. PG&E does fundraisers and has stepped in to hold a mid-year event, "Christmas in July," that gives gifts seniors will enjoy during those hot summer months.
What can we do to help?
Every year the group strives to reach more and more seniors and lend a helping hand. To do this requires an army of volunteers. Jobs like creating ornaments, collecting gifts, wrapping them, writing letters and delivering the gifts to the seniors takes more people every year. Getting started is easy!
Each senior has an ornament with his or her name on it. They can be found at the BPD offices at 1601 Truxtun Ave. or 1301 Buena Vista Road; Carriage House Estates at 8200 Westwold Drive; Storage One at 4500 Panama Lane; and Santa's Workshop at the East Hills Mall.
These ornaments and gifts need to be returned by Dec. 3. If you've missed that window and you want to give something, call and see what can be brought into the workshop.
Every year we have special needs, and this year one of those needs is batteries for a motorized chair. Other gifts like jigsaw puzzles, and crossword and word search books are welcome. Kitchen items like sponges, dish towels and dish soap are useful and in demand. Blankets, pillows, sheets, bath towels and wash clothes are often overlooked, but needed. Items that the seniors really crave are gift cards to grocery stores and pharmacies. If you decide to bring in gift cards, please remember to tape a receipt to the back of the card and remove all of your credit card info if it is on there.
If donating your time is something you would like to do, we have a lot of work that always needs to be done. Come and spend some time at the workshop. The helpers strive to have fun while sorting, preparing and wrapping the gifts. Bring your kids or grandchildren, and help teach them the value of giving to the community, especially if they need to fulfill service hours for a school or church project.
If you don't feel like wrapping, but want to get out there, take on the role of deliveries. All these gifts need to get out somehow! Some local car clubs -- like the Model A Ford Club of America, Bakersfield Chapter -- makes a day of it going to the different locations dressed in period clothing, handing out the gifts, and meeting the recipients. Some of the seniors see the old cars and get a twinkle in their eye, and a wry smile forms across their face.
Who knows what memories you will stir as you hand them a gift? All in all, this could be one of the most rewarding projects you have ever been a part of.