Somewhere in Beaufort County lives Elsie, and all she wants for Christmas is a radio, a puzzle book and a button-up shirt.
She has neither family nor friends to grant her holiday wishes. Nonetheless, each item -- along with a stuffed bulldog -- was delivered this month to Curves of Bluffton, one of several businesses encouraging people to include a senior citizen in their holiday shopping this year.
Elsie and 390 other county residents will receive at least three gifts of their choosing through the Be a Santa to a Senior program, run the past eight years by elder care agency Home Instead Senior Care.
Each holiday season, the agency collects the names and needs of isolated seniors in South Carolina and Georgia and delivers ornaments bearing that information to partnering businesses, such as Curves, CoastalStates Bank locations and Markel's Card and Gift Shop in Bluffton. People pick out ornaments, purchase the listed gifts and return to drop them off, unwrapped, by Nov. 27.
Home Instead Senior Care and program volunteers take care of the rest, wrapping and delivering the presents.
"We can't do this without the people in the community," said Rachel Carson, owner of Home Instead in Savannah.
When the program launched its first year with a list of only 112 names, the agency struggled to spread the word and get the community involved, she said.
"Now, people call us in July and say, 'We want to help with Santa this year,'" Carson said. "It's amazing."
Curves customers snapped up the business' 70 ornaments in about a week, according to employee Deb Waggoner, and only nine ornaments remained at Markel's on Friday, owner Mark Postlethwaite said.
Some people stopped in just to pick one up, he said.
"When you see what these people want, I mean it's socks, slippers, a sweater," Postlethwaite said. "It really breaks your heart."
The Be a Santa effort continues to grow, Carson said. About a dozen more seniors will have their wishes granted this year than in 2012.
"It's increased every year," Carson said.
After the gifts are gathered, volunteers hold wrapping parties to make sure the bags are complete. If one item is missing or came in the wrong color or size, Home Instead will purchase it themselves, Carson said.
But that doesn't happen often. It's more likely a bag will have a few extra items thrown in, she said. That was the case at Curves, where stuffed animals burst from nearly every bag under the Christmas tree, though most ornaments only requested essentials, such as socks and slacks.
Carson said she's been touched by the community's generosity.
"They never see these people; they just know they're making a difference in the lives of a senior who thinks they're forgotten and nobody cares," she said. "But people do care, and that's just outstanding to me."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca. Related content: This holiday season, 'Be a Santa to a Senior' November 26, 2011 http://www.islandpacket.com/2011/11/26/1875588/this-holiday-season-be-a-santa.html#storylink=cpy