The Mental Health Association in Wayne County is gearing up for another holiday season -- hoping to buy gifts for the forgotten in the community.

"We serve individuals who have mental illness, disabilities or the elderly that live in local nursing homes or care facilities and do not have family or friends for Christmas gifts," said Emily Peacock, coordinating the annual Operation Santa Claus with Michelle Rogers.

The annual effort has been around since 1960.

The Mental Health Association itself works to promote, educate and advocate for mental wellness of all individuals in the area, Peacock said.

But at Christmas, the goal is simply to make sure these people are remembered.

A "wish list" is collected from area group homes and facilities, such as Cherry Hospitals and O'Berry Neuro-Medical Treatment Center, to provide for residents who lack family or support during the holidays.

It might be basic necessities like clothing or personal hygiene items, with the occasional special personal gift thrown in.

"We try to spend $20 on each," Peacock said.

That is the ideal, she explained, and all contingent on the amount of money generated from the drive.

Last year they assisted 350 individuals in 14 facilities.

"If you spent $20 on each, if we have 350, that's at least $7,000," she said. "Last year we raised $5,000 so had to cut back on the amount for each."

Despite that, the goal for this year has been raised, to $8,000.

The MHA is also all volunteers and welcomes anyone willing to help shop, wrap and deliver the gifts. Individuals as well as church groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and other organizations are invited to be part of the project.

"The Mental Health Association depends on contributions from Wayne County citizens to provide Christmas gifts," Peacock said. "We hope that people will consider giving.

"We have some very faithful givers. We depend on contributions to this. We don't have any other funding except for contributions."

Ideally, the drive will wrap up by the end of November, to allow time to shop and purchase gifts and have them ready to deliver in time for the holidays.

Tax deductible monetary donations can be mailed to Operation Santa Claus, P.O. Box 1476, Goldsboro, N.C. 27533.

For more information, call 919-734-6026 or email mhawc@att.net.