Santa bags program aids Winters’ seniors in need

Jerry Lowden, Winters Senior Foundation President, works to assemble Santa Bags last year to distribute to local older adults in need. (Tina Lowden/Courtesy photo)

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While Santa delivers things people want, the Winters Senior Foundation (WSF) Santa Bags program delivers what people need. More specifically, Winters’ senior citizens who may be living alone and having a difficult time acquiring day-to-day necessities.

The program itself started back in 2015 by then WSF president Wally Pearce. Its purpose is to help struggling senior citizens around the holidays acquire what food stamps can’t buy — like shampoo, dish soap or toilet paper. Step one in this program process — much like Santa does himself — is to make a list.

“What we do every year is go around to all the apartments that have a lot of seniors in them, usually lower-income seniors. Then we talk to the managers there to see if there’s some people that they know are struggling and could really use this help,” explained project manager Liese Ripley. “Unfortunately, we can only provide for so many people, but we have a shopping list that include things like toiletries, house cleaning stuff, etcetera, and we make sure those who are struggling the most get those bags.”

As mentioned above, once the list of those in need is created, the elves — or more commonly known as volunteers — go out and purchase the necessities that’ll comprise the Santa Bags. The final step in the process is delivering the bags and receiving the smiles and gratitude that transcend any language barrier.

The main challenge in the entire process, however, is finding those who need the Santa Bags most.

“Usually, board members will talk to apartment managers or movers-and-shakers in town to find out who is in need. And that’s one of the nice things about having a small town: it’s pretty personal and people know what’s going on. We get all the recommendations and choose the recipients,” said Ripley. “I helped my husband deliver last year and it was wonderful! It’s such a great experience. We had all Spanish speakers we were delivering to, and my Spanish is very rudimentary, but their smiles said it all. This year, I want to make this appealing to parents and to grandparents with grandchildren, that this is a benefit to family. It’s also an opportunity for their kids to see
community in action and that this is who we are as a town. We take care of each other.”

Although there are other programs that help seniors, this one meets needs that typically aren’t met. Often, people assume seniors are taken care of by relatives or the state when in reality they’re sitting at home, alone — without the basics of life. To Ripley, it’s imperative that a community is not only aware of who these people are, but their needs as well.

“I think this program has been very beneficial to those who we deliver to. It fills a gap that’s not being filled other than through county and state finance programs. But, on a day-to-day level, there’s not much help for seniors,” said WSF president Jerry Lowden. “As a community organization, our goal is to provide an opportunity to socialize, come together and interact with each other and get out of the isolation of living alone. We try to bring people together and this is one way simply to meet people who don’t belong to our organization, and attempt to get someone new to come to our social events and interact a little. It also helps get the word out about who we are and what we do.”

The Santa Bags program delivery window is from Dec. 2 to around Dec. 11. Volunteers are — as always — needed as are donations. If one is interested in lending a helping hand and ensuring their spot on Santa’s ‘nice’ list, send an email to

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