Christmas will be brighter for over 1,500 Ellis and Johnson County senior citizens thanks to the efforts of many community volunteers. The first wave of volunteers, ranging in ages from five to over 80, arrived at the Waxahachie Senior Activity Center to wrap all 1,500 gifts and get them sorted in Meals-On-Wheels delivery routes that span the two counties.

“The idea of Senior Angels began seven years ago when I was delivering Meals-On-Wheel," organizer Jeanee Smiles said.

In that first year, Smiles started with 150 gifts for seniors who are often lonely and nearly forgotten.

“The next year it grew to 200 and has grown from there to where we are today,” Smiles added.

Lee Johnson, a Waxahachie Senior Activity Center board member, was also in attendance to help in the festivities.

“The big pictures is we have approximately 1,500 seniors that who are living alone at Christmas. That is either at home or in nursing home facilities here in Ellis and Johnson Counties," he explained. "What we are trying to do is make sure each one gets a Christmas gift this time of the year. This is a whole community effort of volunteers of all ages.”

The names of the at-home seniors are generated using the master lists from Meals-on-Wheels for Ellis and Johnson Counties.

“We use these lists, so we do not miss anyone,” Johnson explained. Names also come from nursing homes in Waxahachie, Red Oak, Ennis, Italy, and Ferris.

Earlier in the holiday season, an angel tree was put up in the lobby of the Waxahachie Senior Activity Center with an angel tag for each senior. Residents would visit the center and take an angel off the tree or give a few dollars for the organizers to go shopping, Johnson said.

"None were left untaken,” Johnson said.

On Thursday evening, the wrapping began.

“We have up to four generations in the same room helping others. This is a great thing for the young ones to see and be a part of — helping someone less fortunate than they are," volunteer David Hill said. "They are learning it is better to give than receive. They are out here having fun and knowing that tomorrow they will be out helping to deliver these presents tomorrow.”

Hill added, “From my personal perspective, when I look out, and I see 2,000 gifts go out. People do not get paid to do this. They spend their time. They wrap. They give their money. All we do is ask. It is overwhelming what goes on in this room every Christmas season."

Because the gifts donated do not come wrapped or in boxes, Johnson is quick to thank Waxahachie HEB and Walmart.

“We do require boxes for these gifts. And thank goodness for HEB and Walmart here in Waxahachie," he said. "At five and six o’clock in the morning, they have broken down their cardboard boxes from the stocking of the stores and make them available to the box robbers such as others who show up to collect them. And, it is a wild adventure to get 1,500 boxes in three weeks that are of suitable size for gifts.”

“To haul these boxes is an adventure," he added. "The vehicles we use repeatedly visit the stores early in the morning. Often the stocking people know what we are doing, and they become very excited about what we are doing, and many of them come here to sponsor an angel and help us out.”

"The wrapping paper and bows are left over’s from everyone’s last year’s Christmas. The only thing we hope is fresh is the Scotch Tape.”

On Friday, the large boxes of gifts were loaded up in vehicles to be delivered along the 49 Meals-On-Wheels routes throughout Ellis County. The deliveries will be separate from the daily Meals-On-Wheels deliveries.

Lisa Deese, the community engagement specialist for Meals-on-Wheels of Johnson and Ellis Counties, praised the work of the volunteers and expressed excitement for the delivery of the gifts.

“This is a ministry to the seniors of Ellis County to love on them and show them someone cares about them during the Christmas season. When we show up, we get smiles and hugs; they want to visit with us. A lot of times, we are the only people they see and talk to.”