Seniors who stitched more than 1,000 holiday stockings include, at rear from left, Marjorie McElroy, Virginia Young, Barbara Rightnour, and Myrtle Gordon; and at front, Antoinette Dieugenio, Barbara Updegrove, and Pearl Endy. Missing are Cynthia Dreyer, Carolyn Harrington, Kathy Stevic and Arlene Major.
SANATOGA PA – What began with a few friendly letters, sent by supportive local senior citizens to U.S. Armed Forces’ active service men and women deployed far from home, has blossomed into an effort by the TriCounty Active Adult Center to keep military pen pals cheery throughout the holiday season.
Some time ago members of the adult center, temporarily housed in Berean Bible Church at 2675 E. High St., started corresponding with those on duty, including many new recruits. Seniors learned they represented a lifeline for individuals who otherwise “are getting no mail, emails, or care packages,” the center website explains.
They launched a Pen Pal Project to pursue a regular letter-writing campaign with a growing list of correspondents. “Working as a team, we have been sending notes and cards out. Once a week, once a month, or a single note; it all is helpful, wanted and appreciated,” the website states.
Now its members have upped their game for the winter holidays, with a companion project called “Operation Christmas.”
During the past month, according to center Assistant Executive Director Sue McIntyre, the senior writers and others have also become senior stitchers. A group working with speed, determination, and maybe a little elf magic have sewn together more than 1,000 holiday stockings, and personally signed hundreds of accompanying seasonal cards.
The cards and stockings are being shipped to another agency in Florida that will fill them with items soldiers say they want most: toiletries, candy, and food. Then they’ll be distributed to Armed Forces recipients across the globe. For many, Executive Director Brian Parkes noted, the stocking may be the only package they receive during the holidays.
“It feels great to be able to give a little something to brighten a soldiers’ holiday,” said Marjorie McElroy, a volunteer who stitched more than 200 stockings. “They make so many sacrifices for us. I hope this helps make their holiday a little happier.”
“For our troops serving overseas, the holidays are a reminder that they are away from those they love,” McIntyre added. “We hope our stockings remind the soldiers that they are appreciated, especially at this time of year.”
The Pen Pal Project and Operation Christmas are just two of several programs the adult center, formerly known as the Pottstown Area Seniors Center, is using to keep its age-50-and-older members socially connected and engaged. Parkes said it also is offering information and referral assistance, a daily lunch, exercise, and activities “that promote an independent and healthy lifestyle.”
More than 3,000 area residents are already adult center members. Membership costs $20 annually and includes some free programs, discounts on overnight trips, and other benefits, but Parkes said joining is optional.
In fact, it’s free to walk into the center’s space at Berean, Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and get some help from an advisor, meet with a visiting nurse, use a computer, play card games, or participate in a Sit-And-Fit exercise class.
Other activities like art classes, line dancing, Golden Zumba, and Tai Chi cost from only $1 to $3. Hungry? Sit down to a hot lunch for a suggested anonymous donation of $2, and if you’re short on cash that day the meal can be free too. Any resident age 50 and older of the TriCounty area, covering Montgomery, Berks and Chester counties, is encouraged to attend, Parkes said.
Parkes is anxious for the new year to arrive. Early in 2017 the center expects to complete its move into fully renovated digs at 288 Moser Rd. in Pottstown. It should be able to keep area seniors even more occupied, he said.
Photo from the TriCounty Active Adult Center