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Secret senior Santa

600 Bucks and Philadelphia residents at Wesley Enhanced Living to receive gifts through Stockings for Seniors

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Spreading holiday cheer: For the first time this year, stockings will be delivered to a record 600 residents in all six Wesley Enhanced Living communities, which includes a location at 200 Veterans Lane in Doylestown, as part of “Stockings for Seniors: In Memory of Harry Bodkin.” Source: Wesley Enhanced Living

Harry Bodkin wasn’t the richest man in the world. But that never stopped him from spoiling his loved ones during the holidays.

“It didn’t matter if you were his kids or his grandkids or extended nieces and nephews. He made everybody in the whole family a Christmas stocking,” said Bodkin’s granddaughter, Jennifer Anderson. “He did that our whole entire lives and so Christmas, it was such a big deal with wrapping paper everywhere.”

Even when the Northeast Philadelphia native moved to Wesley Enhanced Living in Pennypack Park in 1996, he retained that innate generous spirit.

“He started out in independent living and noticed some of his neighbors maybe didn’t have a lot of family,” said Anderson, who serves on the Wesley sales and marketing team.

As he had done countless times for his family, Bodkin scrounged together his own money and filled nearly a dozen stockings, leaving them outside the doors of his fellow residents on Christmas Eve. Though Bodkin wasn’t looking for any sort of recognition, his only wish being to spread holiday cheer, word of his selflessness spread.

Management approached Bodkin, informing him of several seniors in the health center who were in need of some joy. Bodkin couldn’t refuse, and made sure each received a gift-filled stocking. Unintentionally, his simple act of kindness soon blossomed into a building-wide effort, with seniors and staff aiding in wrapping the presents.

Before his passing in 2005, a year that saw stockings delivered to 120 residents, Bodkin asked Anderson to continue the tradition. Naturally, she happily obliged.

For the first time this year, stockings will be delivered to a record 600 residents in all six Wesley communities, which includes a location at 200 Veterans Lane in Doylestown. This doubles 2017’s total of 300 stockings distributed.

According to Anderson, the “Stockings for Seniors: In Memory of Harry Bodkin” initiative will gift all skilled nursing and personal care residents with a stocking, as well as widows and widowers in independent living.

Throughout the year, Anderson and her mother, as well as the various Wesley communities, hosted both large and small fundraisers to collect money for the purchase of the gifts. These included Anderson’s annual beef and beer event, which featured raffle prizes donated by local businesses, and bake sales at the Doylestown location.

Once the funds were gathered, Anderson set out to purchase the gifts. To ensure fairness, she tried to streamline the items residents will receive, sticking to simple things such as toiletry products, fuzzy socks, jewelry, word find books, food and candy.

On Saturday, Dec. 8, nearly 70 people, including Wesley employees, independent living residents and friends and family of Bodkin, turned up for the official wrapping and stocking-stuffing party.

“It’s grown over the years of just people coming out of the woodwork to help us, which is nice,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s two children were right by her side during the event, with her 10-year-old commenting that he’s been involved with the project since he was born.

“And he’s kind of right. He was there when he was a couple months old, helping out in whatever way he could help out, just bringing smiles to people’s faces at that point,” she said. “My kids want to continue on the tradition. They didn’t get to meet my grandfather, but they still talk about him and know that he was the one who started the stockings. It’s wonderful. It’s like a legacy.”

Over the span of the next several days, the stockings will be united with their recipients, with each Wesley location granted the freedom to customize the experience. While some will hang the stockings on the seniors’ doors just as Bodkin once did, others will host a gift-opening party on Christmas Day.

“It’s neat. It gets people reminiscing about their childhood or when they would have their kids and opening up Christmas gifts,” Anderson said.

As hundreds of seniors excitedly await their presents, it’s safe to say the name of Bodkin won’t fade from the walls of Wesley anytime soon. In fact, “Stockings for Seniors” only seems to be gaining traction. For example, the Sewing Ladies in the Doylestown community knitted handmade stockings for their fellow residents. With enough time and fabric, they hope to craft enough for all of the seniors in years to come.

“He would be amazed to see how much this has grown,” Anderson said. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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