Group Brightens Holidays for Senior Veterans

By BrieAnna Frank
January 21, 2014

It’s only two days before Christmas, and there is much to do at Home Instead Senior Care in Phoenix.  Dozens of wrapped gifts are leaning against the walls, just underneath bulletin boards decorated with tinsel and office plants adorned with Christmas lights.

There are 93 gifts, with each one going to a senior veteran in the Valley. It’s all a part of the Be a Santa to a Senior program sponsored by the Home Instead organization, with partnership from the Phoenix VA Hospital.

Home Instead President Jason Nash said he enjoys giving back to the elderly. This is the eighth year for the program, and Nash said, “This is our opportunity to really be able to serve those people and present them with a beautiful surprise around the holidays.”

The VA Hospital organizes the distribution of the gifts, and asked seniors weeks prior to Christmas for ideas about what they would like to receive. Often, the gifts are practical – sweaters, gift cards to grocery stores, and electric razors for men. Nash said all of the requests are practical, and sometimes the seniors request a gift that is not even meant for themselves.

“We have had gift requests as unique as pet food in the past. Keep in mind that these are seniors that might not otherwise receive a holiday gift for themselves, and they’re requesting a bag of pet food as their single gift,” he says.

Gifts were distributed to seniors on Dec. 23 with the help of employees from Phoenix’s VA Hospital. For Chief of Voluntary Services Michael Achey, serving veterans is a mission that hits home. 

Achey is a retired veteran himself, having served in the United States Air Force for 22 years. His active duty included working as a hospital administrator in Germany for three years. 

Achey said that the Be a Santa to a Senior program is “a phenomenal mission. “

“It gives me great pride, and when Jason [Nash] and his team reach out, it’s even better,” he said.

The progression from serving in the Air Force to working with the VA Hospital was only natural for Achey, who says that with both jobs, he’s been “making sure that active-duty members are given top quality medical care.”

The VA Hospital aims to provide both medical care and holiday cheer to veterans by teaming up with Home Instead.  Hospital social worker Barb Messmer said the veterans they help often live alone, with no family around to exchange Christmas gifts with. Messmer said that the gifts given with the Be a Santa to a Senior program are often the only gift the seniors will receive, and that it’s a very emotional and healing experience for those who have lost friends and family.

Achey said the chance to give a gift to his fellow veterans is something he is grateful for, considering all that they’ve done for the country.

“Without those veterans, we may not have the country that we have,” he said. “It’s good to be kind to them, and make sure they’re remembered.”

Picture of Presents for Senior Veterans