Season of Wishes: Santas for Seniors helps rekindle spirits for area seniors
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2018
NATCHEZ — Melinda Ballard knows that Santa Claus exists. She has seen him at work in the lives of seniors at the Adams County Nursing Center each year.
In fact, Ballard has seen not just one Santa at work. She has seen nearly 100 Santas transform the lives of seniors who would otherwise be lonely during the holiday season and throughout the year.
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For three years, Ballard has organized and led Santas for Seniors — a program affiliated with Trinity Episcopal Church that matches volunteers with Adams County Nursing Center residents to help foster fellowship and companionship.
Not until her mother died in a nursing home in 2014 did Ballard realize how little companionship and fellowship some of the other seniors received in her mother’s nursing home.
“It is something nobody wants to talk about,” Ballard said. “Some seniors don’t receive a smile, a hug or a conversation. It causes you to dissipate from the inside out.”
Participating in something similar in Lakeland, Fla., Ballard wanted to organize a group of volunteers in Natchez who would help answer the Christmas wishes of seniors.
She had been attending Trinity Church after moving to Natchez in 2016 and asked the church for their help. With their assistance, Ballard recruited people to help provide Christmas gifts for the residents.
The gifts were more than just a plant, a blanket or a pair of socks, Ballard said.
“We asked what would rekindle their spirit — make them laugh, make them smile,” Ballard said.
In the last three years, Santas have set up a bird feeder for a senior who wanted to see the birds from his window, Ballard said.
“The woman who set up the feeder maintains it throughout the year,” Ballard said.
Other Santas buy acrylic paints and other art supplies for seniors who love to paint, Ballard said.
Another Santa bought a subscription to an automobile magazine for a senior who was a former race car driver, Ballard said.
The program has been so successful that Ballard has been able to expand the program. Not only does she provide Christmas for the seniors, she and her Santas have also been able to come to the nursing home at the end of every month to celebrate the birthdays of each resident.
“We took over all of the birthday celebrations. We bring happys, cake and hang out with the seniors for about an hour,” Ballard said.
The birthday celebrations have become the most popular events in the nursing home and among the Santas.
“I can’t wait until the end of each month,” Ballard said. “It is really special.”
Next year, Ballard said she hopes to sponsor regular outings to help get the seniors away from the isolation of the nursing center. By the end of 2019, Ballard said she also hopes to bring the program to an additional nursing center in the area.
In order to expand opportunities for more seniors, Ballard said the program needs more volunteers and more donations.
“People can do so much and it doesn’t take a lot of time,” Ballard said.
Those who want to volunteer to be a Santa can call Trinity Episcopal Church at 601-445-8432 during the week. Donations can be brought to the church at 305 S. Commerce St. Checks made out to the church should be earmarked for Santas for Seniors, Ballard said.