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By Breeana Greenberg

Hoping to again bring holiday cheer to local seniors, the City of Dana Point, with the help of Meals on Wheels, is collecting and distributing Secret Santa gifts that members of the community are encouraged to contribute.  

Residents interested in donating presents can pick up a gift tag at the “Giving Tree” in the lobby of the Dana Point Community Center and drop off the unwrapped present at the Recreation Division office by Dec. 13.

The donation event, “Stocking Stuffers for Seniors,” started last year, during the winter surge of the pandemic, when the city learned that many seniors in Dana Point don’t have family living in the area.

“During COVID, we were really focused on just making sure basic necessities got to our seniors,” Mayor Jamey Federico said.

In response to the pandemic, staff at the recreation department developed the Secret Santa event as a safer way to bring holiday cheer to isolated seniors.

“With COVID, a lot of our seniors were isolated, and we actually had way more seniors who were participating in things like Meals on Wheels since they didn’t have family in the area,” Recreation Supervisor Monique Leon said. “So, we wanted to make sure they could have some Christmas even if they couldn’t be with their families.”

Last year, the inaugural Jolly Trolley traveled throughout the city to deliver gifts to seniors who were a part of the Dana Point senior food program. The city’s recreation staff and Youth Board members last year delivered 75 gifts to homebound seniors in the days preceding Christmas.

“So, for those that we could get a trolley to, we were able to have Santa come visit and say hi from a distance and give them their present just to kind of cheer them up a little bit, because last year was very rough and isolating on our seniors,” Leon said.

This year, Meals on Wheels drivers will be delivering gifts on their route. The Recreation Department worked closely with Age Well Senior Services, which runs the city’s food delivery program, to gather the list of participating seniors.

The Youth Board and Recreation Department hope to receive enough donations for each senior to receive two to three presents.

Leon said the city hopes to continue the Stocking Stuffers program, making it a new tradition that can keep going indefinitely.

“The community really enjoys giving to those in need and helping out,” Leon said. “There’s a big soft spot for seniors, and it’s had a great response from the community. So, we would like to continue it.”

Gift tags with a gift idea for a male or female senior can be picked up Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the community center, located at 34052 Del Obispo. Unwrapped gifts can be dropped off at the Recreation Division office. Gifts must be dropped off by Dec. 13.

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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