Santa isn’t just for kids: Peoria’s Neighborhood House delivers holiday joy with ‘Santa for Seniors’

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CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — Volunteers loaded their cars with gift bags to deliver to seniors across the greater Peoria area Sunday morning, Dec. 5

“Santa for Seniors” has been a program with Peoria’s Neighborhood House since 1985, according to Community Impact Director Trevor Neff. And this year was no different.

“It’s a gift program, but it’s also a wellness check for our seniors in the area who might not have family and friends here to check on them during the holidays,” Neff said.

In total, 700 bags went to seniors in the Neighborhood Houses’ Meals on Wheels Program. Another 700 bags went to local nursing homes, one being South Side Manor.

The gifts were donated by UFS and Heart of Illinois AARP.

Neff said it is important to check on seniors because this time of year, they may not be very mobile, and may need extra help. For example, Neff said if someone’s heat goes out and they can’t let anyone know, this is an opportunity for volunteers to help out.

“It’s showing those seniors that are homebound that we do care,” he said, “the community is thinking about them.”

Several members of the Central Illinois Veterans Warriors hockey team volunteered.

“This was a great opportunity for us to come out and help people that aren’t able to get out,” Patrick Schmid, one of the members, said.

He said it is so important to check up on those in the community, and said as a veteran, checking in is especially important.

“I know when I was deployed, we always got, received gifts when we were deployed. It was always a joy,” Schmid said. “So now, it’s kind of giving back to people that also need to still enjoy Christmas during these times.”

Schmid stopped at 17 homes on his delivery route. One of those homes in Bellevue belongs to Mary Cleveland. She is a recipient of the Meals on Wheels program.

“Things are really rough and tough and getting that meal, that one meal a day, that does the world for me. It does a lot. I mean, I count on it,” Cleveland said.

She said her only income is disability, and Meals on Wheels fills the gap when food stamps aren’t enough. “A lot of times I don’t have extra to eat,” Cleveland said.

She said Meals on Wheels not only helps her, but her family as well. “It’s a blessing with my daughters, ‘cause they don’t have that extra concern,” she said.

Cleveland opened her gift bag, stuffed with a calendar, playing cards, candy, plus some practical items.

“This is awesome,” she said. “This really makes me feel special. That means a lot.” She said she is thankful for everything the Neighborhood House has done for her the past few months she has received their help.

“To really let people know that people do care,” she said. “‘Cause, it is rough. It gets a little rough out there.” 

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