Area Girl Scouts, along with Concord Chevrolet, may have helped save Christmas for many Contra Costa County seniors.

Be A Santa To A Senior, a nationwide nonprofit that collects and distributes gifts to seniors, gave gifts to 100 seniors in Contra Costa County last year.

Although primarily a Concord operation now, a few Walnut Creek seniors benefit from this program, And Dorrian Ballard, the manager of the Walnut Creek branch of Home Instead Senior Care, a nationwide caregiver service that meets needs of seniors who don't live in care homes, said she is in discussions with city officials on how the program can be expanded to serve more Walnut Creek seniors.

Last year, CVS stores throughout Contra Costa hosted trees festooned with ornaments containing area seniors'wish lists. Shoppers often could pick up an ornament and complete their shopping for the wish list without ever leaving the store.

This year, CVS decided not to host the "Be A Santa" trees. And organizers say they would have seen a big drop-off in gift donations if not for a $1,000 check from Concord Chevrolet that allowed them to buy a large number of the items on the wish lists.

At the same time, Concord's Girl Scout Troop 32408, its members ages 11 to 12, devoted their time and energy to making sure the 150 seniors identified by Be A Santa To A Senior as needing gifts this year would not go empty-handed.

Marissa Ennis, a fifth-grader at St. Agnes School in Concord, came up with the idea after reading about the "Be A Santa" program last year.

The girls got Dr. Ludwig of Clayton Valley Orthodontics in Concord to host a tree in their waiting room.

Ennis, along with Isabella Samardzic, a fifth-grader at Highlands Elementary in Concord, became the projects managers for the troop of 10 girls.

Samardzic was in charge of making fleece blankets to give to seniors.

"A lot of the seniors can't pay for heating," said Samardzic.

Ennis was in charge of the tree at the orthodontics office.

"Getting to help the seniors was my favorite part," said Ennis.

The troop had a small celebration with the staff at the orthodontics office on Thursday, Dec. 13.

"Dr. Ludwig and his staff have been very helpful promoting the program and encouraging clients to take a tag to adopt a senior," said troop leader Jackie Byrd, whose daughter Aynsley Byrd belongs to the troop. "Several times a week girls have gone to the office to collect any gifts that have been donated."

This project will help the girls earn the Girl Scout Bronze Award and Journey Award for Community Service.

Be A Santa To A Senior runs until Dec. 21, and gift donations will be accepted until then.

The city of Concord has been at the forefront of participating in the program. There is a large tree with "Be A Santa" ornaments in City Hall.

"We ran out of ornaments," said Concord Vice Mayor Tim Grayson, who spoke at a gift-wrapping party at the Concord Senior Center on Saturday. "We had people that wanted to give gifts but couldn't."

Grayson was moved by seeing the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts among those volunteering to wrap gifts.

"When you see a child working here on a Saturday when they could be playing video games, that's Christmas all the way," said Grayson.

The Concord Commission on Aging helped to increase the number of seniors receiving gifts from 100 to 150 this year.

Suzanne Davis-Lucey, a member of the commission said she loves helping with Be A Santa To A Senior because seniors are often neglected. Davis-Lucey said many of the seniors are not used to receiving gifts or visitors and can be suspicious of the kindness.

"When I went to ask permission from the seniors to deliver gifts to them, one 100-year-old woman asked me "Are these gifts for free?" " said Davis-Lucey. "Before signing the paperwork, she told me "My daughter's a lawyer."

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