Some people living in area facilities might not have a Christmas if it weren’t for the Mental Health Association in Wayne County.
The organization sponsors Operation Santa Claus to get gifts to individuals who are in rest homes or care facilities. The program has been going on since 1960 in some way or another.
“With the pandemic, we’re doing it a little differently now,” said Emily Peacock, Mental Health Association president. “What we do is we have about 15 care facilities that provide us names of individuals and gifts that they would like to receive, along with their sizes.”
Gifts could include a robe, gown, pajamas or a sweatsuit. Peacock said some residents even want a radio or something else they can use.
“We’ve gotten requests for the whole gamut of everything,” she said. “One guy even requested a pineapple cake one time because he hadn’t had one in years. So he wanted a pineapple cake.”
She said Operation Santa Claus chairman Michelle Rogers made sure the man got his cake.
The Mental Health Association accepts monetary donations, and then purchases gifts for people and returns them to the care facilities, trying to be as economical as possible and use the donations wisely.
This year, Operation Santa Claus has a goal to raise $6,000 to provide gifts for more than 300 people in Wayne County.
Peacock said in past years, Operation Santa Claus has been fortunate to be able to provide something for all of the people recommended by facility staff.
“We try to cut down as much as we can to make it as simple as possible during COVID,” she said. “We take the gifts to the facilities with the person’s name on them. Then the facilities take care of giving them to the individuals. We don’t enter the individual’s room.”
Peacock said Mental Health Association staff and volunteers used to wrap the presents before taking them back to the facilities, but because of COVID, last year they didn’t do that and won’t do that again this year.
“We miss doing that,” she said. “Hopefully next year we can start wrapping gifts again.”
The Mental Health Association sends out letters each year to previous donors, and has already received some donations that way this year.
Peacock said donors can be individuals, families, businesses, clubs, church groups and schools or in honor or in memory of someone.
Peacock said some of the recipients are elderly. But some are young people with disabilities who are in a facility.
She said the Mental Health Association started Operation Santa Claus because its members recognized that there were many people at Cherry Hospital who never had visitors and no one ever gave them anything special for Christmas.
“We would go and get the gifts and take them to the hospital for those individuals,” Peacock said. “Then as our Mental Health Association continued and began to get more involved in the total community, then we realized that there were others, especially when Cherry, as time went on, started releasing more of their individuals to the community facilities.
“So that made us more aware of the fact that there were those in the community who were also more or less forgotten and didn’t get any recognition. This was our way of trying to give them something special that they would like, whereas they might not get recognized at Christmas.”
Peacock said she’s heard that those who receive the gifts are very grateful for them.
“The facilities try to do something for their residents, but they can’t do as much as they would like to do,” she said. “So this really helps them.
“Some people the Mental Health Association provides gifts for might not have anyone to buy presents for them, so (they) would not have anything for Christmas if not for Operation Santa Claus.”
Donations are due by Dec. 15, Peacock said. They can be mailed to the Mental Health Association in Wayne County, Operation Santa Claus, P.O. Box 1476, Goldsboro, N.C., 27533.
For more information about the program call 919-734-6026.
“It’s (Operation Santa Claus) been one of our things that we’ve really promoted through the years,” Peacock said. “Especially those who are mentally disabled or mentally ill or elderly, they just need something extra. The holiday’s coming up, and we want to let them know that people do care and are not forgotten.”