While the coronavirus pandemic may leave many families isolated during the holidays, a gift program for seniors has moved online.

The Andover office of Home Instead — a home-based care program for seniors — is continuing its annual Be a Santa to a Senior program, which provides seniors who may not otherwise receive gifts with what they want during the holidays.

Administrators at senior living homes provide Home Instead the names of residents who may not have family in the area or otherwise would not receive gifts. In years past the names would be put on bulbs and hung on Christmas trees in stores that partner with Home Instead, according to Jason Crane, who owns the Andover office.

Customers could find a bulb, purchase the gift on the bulb for the senior and return it to the store. Home Instead then picked up the presents and delivered them to the appropriate facilities.

“We were so busy last year, we were collecting them almost on a daily basis, because last year we gave over 500 gifts to seniors at the VA Hospital and at various nursing homes,” Crane said.

The senior care facilities would distribute the gifts during a Christmas party for the recipients.

This year is a little different. While the trees are being put up, instead of names the company has hung directions on the tree. Buyers can go to beasantatoasenior.com and click on the bulb with a senior’s name on it. That will automatically direct them to an Amazon basket preloaded with the gifts the senior wants, Crane said.

“We’re doing it differently to reduce the amount of handling and people involved,” he said.

Crane’s office works with the Maple Grove Lunds & Byerlys, a long-time corporate partner. Most of the distribution is centered out of that location, Crane said.

Crane immediately saw people responding to the online process this year.

“Our very first day that Angela (Wisely) put the trees up I think we had 35 people already buy gifts,” Crane said.

The gift giving started Nov. 13 and runs until Dec. 11.

Crane usually shows up to the Christmas parties to be involved with the seniors, but the coronavirus pandemic has limited that this year. He hopes to arrange a way to attend the parties virtually, he said.

Home Instead has hosted the program for 17 years, after one Home Instead owner came up with the idea. It has spread since then, resulting in more than 2.1 million gifts given to over 750,000 seniors, Crane said.

The project is a way for the company to enact one of its core values “love in action,” Crane said.

“We want to spread love in the communities that we operate in, and we specifically want to spread love to the marginalized,” he said. “Those individuals that are lonely, that maybe don’t feel love — especially at a time in the year like Christmas.”

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