While its not often discussed, poverty exists in Fayette County and, in many cases, can especially effect seniors. Betty Keane, Coordinator of the Be A Santa To a Senior (BASTAS) program told the Peachtree City Council on Thursday how local residents can help make the holidays a little brighter for these seniors in need.
Keane explained that the program started three years ago with modest goals and has already grown to provides tens of thousands of dollars in gifts to impoverished seniors.
"At Christmas time, the one thing we think about is children. But what happens to those seniors out there that have already paid it forward? There are veterans, there are people out there that have nothing, and they are out there in our community," Keane said.
She recounted some specific stories, including of one woman who had no bed to sleep on and kept herself warm in the winter by lining her clothes with newspapers gathered from the ends of driveways. Keane said the woman explained that she would wear the same set of newspaper-lined clothes all winter.
"This is in our community. We live in a bubble where we think nobody here lives in poverty," Keane said.
The program began in Fayette County, but last year expanded to Coweta and is continuing to expand.
In 2012, the first year for the BASTAS program, a total of 6,800 gift items worth over $33,000 were collected. The gifts included food, medical items, clothing, gift cards, and a variety of other items. She said the goal had been to put together 50 gift bags, but they ended up giving away nearly 450.
Last year that number grew to 750 gift bags for a total of 9,639 gifts with a value of $79,364.
While there were a few gifts worth hundreds of dollars, Keane said most of the items and money donations were gathered "little bits at a time."
Keane credited the involvement of a range of local organizations like the Peachtree City Police Department, Meals on Wheels, the Fayette Care Clinic, local churches, and other community groups in Fayette, Coweta, and other counties.
"When I look at these communities and I see this, I am so excited to see what this year is going to bring," Keane said.
The program can be life changing in some cases, she said. In one particular instance, an elderly man asked for some help getting firewood to heat his home. The man, in his 90s, had always cut his own firewood, but was injured and could no longer do so.
Keane said the man asked for "one cord of wood." Instead, a volunteer brought him so much firewood that he told her "for the rest of my natural life, I will not need any more firewood."
In some cases, she has found seniors that resort to eating cat or dog food because they can't afford regular meals.
"If everyone gets involved, we can eradicate this. In our community, we don't need to have people that can't eat," Keane said.
In three weeks, BASTAS will begin putting up trees in certain locations around the community, including the police department and various churches.
Donations of money, supplies, and volunteer time are needed.
Checks can be made payable to Fayette Senior Services and mailed to: Home Instead Senior Care - MoW / BASTAS, P.O. Box 194, Fayetteville, GA 30214.
The check should say "MoW / BASTAS" in the memo line so that donations can be tracked.
To volunteer for BASTAS, contact Betty Keane at betty.Keane@HomeInstead.com or by phone at 770-312-4791.
More information, including where BASTAS trees can be found, is available at www.BeaSantaToaSenior.com.