Guttenberg Press "Senior Santa" program deemed a success

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Thanks to generous donations from community members and grant money received from the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation (UMGC), The Guttenberg Press "Senior Santa" program has had another successful year. From left are Melissa Spielbauer-Combs, Dan Meyer and Susi Nehls. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Christmas is a joyous time of year. People from all walks of life enjoy spending time with loved ones and opening gifts during the holiday season. Unfortunately, many of our community members age 65 and older do not have a special someone to celebrate with. 

As we age, the number of friends and loved ones who encompass our lives starts to decline. Spousal partners and friends pass away, children and grandchildren move miles from home, and other friends have to leave their homes and move into senior living centers, assisted living facilities or other safer housing options. Feelings of loneliness and grief can intensify during the holidays. 

Many aging members of our community are no longer as mobile as they once were, further isolating these individuals. Their universe becomes smaller, and their anxiety becomes worse. Sadly, many seniors are too proud to ask for help. For many seniors Christmas can be very depressing. 

Guttenberg Press "Senior Santa" program

The Guttenberg Press "Senior Santa" program has  addressed the needs of the elderly in our community during the holidays since 2010. Thanks in part to a generous out-pouring of donated gifts from community members, and grant money from the Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation (UMGC), the program has experienced another successful year of gift-giving. 

Guttenberg Press employee Melissa Spielbauer-Combs, AKA Santa, has been sorting and wrapping gifts designated for seniors since 2015. She told The Press, "The local Girl Scout troop delivers the gift packages to the Guttenberg Care Center, Eagle Ridge Assisted Living and River Living Center." 

Spirited community volunteer Susi Nehls has been involved in the project for the past two years, delivering gift packages to seniors living independently in the community. Nehls shared, "It's magical! It is such a joy to visit with the senior members of our community. The experience goes well beyond dropping off a gift. I have developed wonderful friendships with the gift recipients, and remain in contact with some of them throughout the year." 

Spielbauer-Combs explained, "I contact the care center and assisted livings, and they give me the number of men and women who can benefit from the program. Church members and neighbors also give us names." 

Nehls commented, "Every gift is so appreciated. It is heart-warming to hear the comments they make as they pull out each gift from the bag. They are truly grateful." 

Gift suggestions

Spielbauer-Combs listed a few useful gift suggestions. "Toiletries, such as shampoo, hand lotion, shower gel, perfumes, aftershave, combs and brushes are always welcome," she said

Nehls went on to say, "Stamps, assorted greeting cards, double AA or triple AAA batteries, blankets, socks, gloves, Kleenex, sugar-free candies, slippers or an umbrella are all nice gifts." 

Spielbauer-Combs commented, "In the past, we have received items that were a certain size, too large to be wrapped, or candy that was not within the dietary guidelines of each gift recipient. I put those items in a large box and send them to the care center and assisted living facilities, and let the individuals responsible for passing out the gifts decide who should receive them." She added, "Candy is a nice gift, but make sure it is sugar-free –  just to be safe." 

After the gifts are gathered, Spielbauer-Combs begins the process of separating the gifts, wrapping them, and artfully placing them in each gift bag.  She noted, "If you can't think of anything to give as a gift you can always donate gift bags or wrapping paper to help offset the cost of the program." 

Nehls stressed, "If you know someone in the community who is alone, or someone who needs assistance, please contact The Guttenberg Press so they can add their name to the list for next year." 

Spielbauer-Combs said, "I keep the list of names from year to year. If someone's name drops of the list I do some investigating to make sure they haven't mistakenly been omitted." 

Gift recipients often become inspired to give to others. Nehls commented, "A person who was selected out of the Senior Santa process has been inspired to give gifts to others in need!" 

Dan Meyer

Dan Meyer, who lives independently in Guttenberg, has been a recipient of a "Senior Santa" package for the past three years. 

Meyer told The Press, "I grew up on a farm up on Miner's Creek Road. I farmed for about 30 years. Due to a heart condition I had to give up farming and move to town." 

Meyer overcame many health challenges. "I had two open heart surgeries and trouble with a stroke. I couldn't eat or walk. I had to learn how to do those things all over again."  

Meyer enjoys visiting with volunteer Susi Nehls. "Susi is a big Packers fan and I am a Dallas Cowboy fan. We enjoy giving each other a hard time," he said with a laugh. 

Meyer concluded, "It is hard for me to receive gifts. I always tried to help others. I am so appreciative of the gifts I have received. I don't know why you guys do it, but I sure am grateful you do. I wish I could repay you guys." 

Beyond the holidays

Extend generosity beyond the holiday season. Take time to visit seniors living in your neighborhood. Offer them a ride to church or a hot meal and a plate of homemade goodies. You may find them declining your offer because they don’t want to intrude, but be persistent and let them know you care.

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