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‘Be a Santa for a Senior’ brings joy and connection to Heber Valley

Spring Gardens

“Be a Santa for a Senior” is a beloved Heber Valley tradition that came to fruition during the early days of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 lockdowns were tough on everyone; the vulnerable senior citizen population was especially impacted. Lora Child is the activities director at Spring Gardens, a senior living community in Heber. She said after 10 months of residents sequestered in their rooms, she knew she had to do something to encourage connection during the holidays.

“And I'm like, ‘We need to make sure people don't forget this population,'" said Child. "So I sent out a Facebook post on ‘Ask Heber’ and the response was overwhelming. And within four or five hours every resident had been adopted.”

The staff compiled lists for all 90 seniors and then sent them to their assigned Santa. Child said the bounty they received was so overwhelming and joyful it has become an annual community tradition. 

“It's been a really neat experience to watch this, because so many of the seniors don't realize when these lists are made that they are made for that individual," she said. "So if somebody loves cats, they're getting cat pajamas, they're getting a stuffed cat, they're getting a cat calendar. Or someone last year really wanted a pen pal, so this person opened a package and it was open to letters from different pen pals. So we really try to make these lists individual to the residents so that they feel loved and special.”

Spring Gardens

Jean Anne Kitzinger is one of those residents. “That blew my mind. People we don't know give. I mean, we're talking about giant bags–you could put a human being inside of it. And they even gave my cat Christmas gifts. I thought that was precious. It's like somebody took the time to realize how important my cat was to me.”

Kitzinger said she loves the staff and residents at Spring Gardens but she had a really tough transition when she moved there over a year ago.

“I thought my world exploded when I had to move here," she said. "Because you get rid of your car, you get rid of your house, you move away from your friends, you move away from your family, you move into a place where you don't know anybody. You don't have anything to do. You don't have any real power. The staff made it easier to live here.”

Child said working at Spring Gardens has been one of her favorite jobs ever. She loves hearing the residents' stories and being part of their family because not everyone has regular visitors.

“I have to remind myself that it’s just a privilege to be here for them and especially those last moments as they transition off our earth," she said. "I’ve been able to hold hands. I’ve been able to love and hug the families. I don't know, it's just really intimate. Really, it's a privilege to help these residents transition and move onto their second life.”

And this “second life” has served as a powerful reminder for the community that there is not only joy in the giving but in the being remembered.