Sadly, many homebound seniors in Sussex County spend Christmas alone each year; but now two local groups are hoping to change that.
For the very first time, McDonald's is teaming up with CHEER - a local nonprofit that serves more than half of Sussex County's seniors - in their annual gift-giving campaign, "Operation Christmas CHEER."
"Operation Christmas CHEER has been around for about 25 years. We started it to help make Christmas a little bit better for homebound seniors in Sussex County," said Anthony DelFranco, CHEER marketing director.
"Each year, we go out to about 250-275 senior citizens who really have nobody else at Christmas, who really don't have any Christmas celebration at all," explained Ken Bock, executive director of CHEER. "And for those senior citizens who have nobody else, we deliver Christmas."
Last year, CHEER and its volunteers delivered more than 250 hot turkey dinners, wrapped gifts and poinsettias to homebound seniors Christmas morning. But with an operation this big, they can't do it alone, which is why Michael Meoli, co-owner and operator of 18 McDonald's restaurants (8 of them in Sussex County), says McDonald's has agreed to help out.
"It's part of our long-standing history at McDonald's always to contribute back to the community," said Meoli.
Meoli says McDonald's is helping this year by encouraging crew members and management to donate Christmas presents for less-fortunate seniors.
"We'll put donation boxes in the crew rooms and we're going to encourage all of our crew, management and their families to put a gift or two in the box," said Meoli.
Employees and their families will have until December 20th to donate gifts. Then CHEER will pick them up for the nearly 100 volunteers who donate their time Christmas morning to wrap and deliver them to seniors.
"Some of the items that the employees will be donating will be socks, towels, bath wears, maybe gift baskets, gloves, sweatshirts and hoodies," said DelFranco. "There is a list of about 25 different items that employees can give and each one of those lists will be on the boxes here at McDonald's for them to look at and make a decision on what they would want to buy."
"We're not talking about luxury items here. We're talking about basic staples of life which do become luxuries for people that don't have them," said Bock. "We're talking about donations of a sweatshirt for somebody who's living in a cold and drafty house may not have clothing to stay warm through the winter. We're talking about the joy that comes from opening a pack of sweat socks. A man being able to put on a fresh, clean pair of socks when all there may be is two or three tattered socks in the drawer. We're talking about things that make a difference in the quality of people's lives."
"I think it's important that the crew and management see, even though that maybe the Meoli Companies have given to a lot of things over the years, they also have a stake in it," said Meoli. "They have a stake. They have the opportunity to give and I think that one of the best things you could ever do for anybody is give them the opportunity to give and to help others, and what a more perfect way to do that in conjunction with the folks at CHEER."
Meoli says programs like this matter because they also help make the community stronger.
"It matters that we're putting something back, whether it's with our time, our money, our volunteering, helping other organizations do what they do best - that's what we do, and I'm glad to be part of it," said Meoli.
CHEER says they couldn't be more grateful.
"We are very excited to be partnering with McDonald's," said DelFranco. "I think this is a great partnership. I look at the baby boomers where the kids growing up with McDonald's - so it's such a natural fit for McDonald's to be part of Operation Christmas CHEER."
"The only reason we're able to do things like this is because of support of local business organizations like the Meoli Group and McDonald's and organizations that take of their time with their employees and make the effort to give back to the community," said Bock.
Two local groups proudly working together for their community - understanding that Christmas isn't always about what you get, but what you give.
"How can you not feel proud to be part of something that important, that important to our community, that important to this county, and to those people who might not otherwise have anything or anybody to visit them or bring anything to them on Christmas Day?" said Meoli.
For folks who wish to join McDonald's in supporting Operation Christmas CHEER, Bock says donations can be dropped off at any CHEER center in Sussex County.
"We accept gifts, unwrapped or wrapped gifts, but if they're wrapped you need to designate whether it's for a male or female. We're looking for gifts that are like basic staples of life - toiletries, sweatshirts, sweat socks, sweaters, sweatpants - things like this that we consider commonplace in our lives, but for people that have nothing or very little, next to nothing, these are luxury items that affect the quality of life in such a huge way. We also accept canned food donations for nonperishable food at CHEER centers, or if you want to make cash donations towards helping us help seniors throughout the holidays we will accept those also," said Bock.
Bock says CHEER also welcomes volunteers who wish to help wrap and/or deliver gifts to seniors Christmas morning. To volunteer or for more information, contact Florence Mason at 302-515-3045 or Elizabeth Walls at 302-515-3061.