DIXFIELD — People stepped up to the plate and then some to bring Christmas cheer to 44 senior citizens in Dixfield, Mexico, Peru and Rumford through Kelly Mawhinney DeRoche’s debut Senior Secret Santa Program.
DeRoche said Saturday morning that many of the elderly residents had no families, so it was heartwarming to brighten up their holidays on Tuesday night by delivering donated presents, among which were gift cards, blankets, slippers and candy.
“It was awesome,” she said. “There were a lot of tears (of joy). ‘Who’s this from?’ was the most-asked question. We got lots of hugs and lots of ‘God bless yous’. It was just amazing.”
They also dropped off eight presents for residents at the Rumford Community Home after learning that Christmas morning is the saddest part of the holiday for them, DeRoche said. The residents typically get no gifts if they don’t have any family left.
DeRoche launched her program the first week of December after seeing a report on the news about someone doing a Secret Santa program in Portland. She got the word out that she was looking for seniors who might not have anything for Christmas and for help from people to buy a desired gift or commit to a request.
“I also found that some of the people nominated for a gift did have family but would appreciate it, and they certainly did,” she said.
Starting Dec. 8, each gift or request was written on a tag placed on a decorated Christmas tree in the lobby of town attorney Jennifer Kreckel’s office on Congress Street in Rumford. DeRoche said she received a few messages on Christmas Eve from more people wanting to help, but donors had taken all the tags.
She credited her assistant, Melinda Woods of Peru, with keeping everything organized. “A big shout-out to Melinda,” DeRoche said. “She kept that so organized. I would have been a mess.”
Woods also helped her shop for presents using cash donated by people for that reason. There wasn’t any shortage of people who wanted to help get the gifts to recipients. Many of them brought their donated gifts in gift bags. She hadn’t expected them to do that.
“I had 11 people who wanted to help deliver the gifts and, of course, I wanted to see (all of the recipients), but there wasn’t enough time,” DeRoche said. “I was getting phone calls from the girls out delivering the presents saying they could do this all night long.
“One lady when we delivered a bag to her, she said, ‘How come? How come you’re doing this?’ and we just said, ‘Merry Christmas,’ and returned to the car where we could see her and her husband through their window pulling stuff out of the bag and smiling. That’s what it’s all about,” she said.
She’s already looking forward to next Christmas.
“I’m anxious for next year’s program to start,” DeRoche said. “Next year, I’m definitely starting sooner. I want to try to do something every year for someone. Next year, I will be more organized and more clear with expectations.”