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Be a Santa to a Senior showcases caring community

Be a Santa to a Senior showcases caring community

Throughout the year, the Burnsville Senior Center is buzzing with activity. The collaborative program between District 191 Community Education and the City of Burnsville at Diamondhead Education Center provides area senior citizens with a place to meet up for coffee, play cards, enjoy a meal, access health and wellness services, and even learn skills like painting, Tai Chi or woodcarving.

But the busiest time of the year is over the holiday season when Senior Center members come together to lift the spirits of those who aren’t able to participate in such activities. Hundreds of volunteers from the Senior Center, 191 Community Education and the community teamed up again this year to participate in Be a Santa to a Senior, which provided gifts to around 350 local senior citizens, many of whom reside in assisted living facilities across Dakota, Scott and Rice counties. It’s the 16th year the Burnsville Senior Center has participated in the event.

Be a Santa to a Senior

“It is specific to seniors who are isolated at the holidays, at a time when we associate Christmas with children and collecting items for them. Most people would actually rather buy for someone else than receive a gift themselves,” Senior Center Director Michele Starkey said. “This is a very generous and caring community.”

Seniors are nominated by community members, senior housing groups or organizations like Meals on Wheels, City of Burnsville or Dakota County Public Health. The Be a Santa to a Senior team then creates a wish list for each person, which is written on an ornament that’s then placed on one of a dozen trees throughout the community in places like the Burnsville Senior Center, City Hall, assisted living homes, and grocery stores. Community members then select the ornaments, purchase the items and donate them to the Senior Center. Other gifts are donated by organizations like the Rotary, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and school groups. Senior Center knitting and quilting groups also provide gifts like blankets.

Volunteers then come together for a festive wrapping party where they organize and wrap the gifts. The next day, they’re delivered by a group of over 50 volunteers.

“This program is volunteer based and this program continues to grow year after year because of the support from the community. From the generous items that are donated, to all who show up to wrap and deliver the packages to seniors in our community. We could not continue to do this program without the help of all the volunteers,” Starkey said. 

Shirley Blix has been part of the knitting group at the Senior Center for over 20 years. In addition to knitting and crocheting extra mittens for students at District 191 elementary schools, Blix sews about 100 treat bags a year for Be a Santa to a Senior. 

Another volunteer, Sherry Beason, is following in the footsteps of her late mother, who she said knit over 50 lap robes a year for 20 years for residents in local assisted living residents. The lap robes Beason knits are given out through Be a Santa to a Senior.

“I volunteer because my hands have to stay busy and there’s a need,” Beason said. “It adds color to my life and to other peoples. I’m sure that’s why everybody does it.”

Starkey said the district’s participation in Be a Santa to a Senior demonstrates not only its core values of Caring Community and Inclusive Partnership, but promotes its mission of Future Readiness as well. 

“We have a number of families who have volunteered for this event for years and the students think this is just a part of what they should be doing in terms of thinking of others in need,” she said.