Operation Christmas CHEER packages special delivery to Sussex seniors

GEORGETOWN — For most people, Christmas is a festive time for family gatherings, holiday feasts, celebrations and joy.

Businessman Mike Meoli, left, and Ken Bock, CEO for CHEER, flank a gift box for employee contributions at one of Mr. Meoli’s McDonald’s restaurants supporting Operation Christmas CHEER.

Others are not as fortunate.

For some of those, there’s Operation Christmas CHEER, which aims to deliver holiday cheer to the needy home-bound senior citizens across Sussex County.

Around 10 a.m. on Christmas morning, a small army of volunteers will gather at CHEER’s base in the Thurman Adams State Service Center on U.S. 113.

Vehicles will be loaded with care packages that includes hot meals prepared by CHEER’s nutrition staff, fruit baskets, nonperishable food, poinsettias and for those animals, pet food and pet toys. There also are cosmetic bags with Mary Kay goodies.

Each delivery to a home-bound senior will include a Christmas card created by a young elementary school student.

Operation Christmas Cheer is a community-wide effort in the joy of giving.

“There is a lot of involvement,” said Florence Mason, nutrition supervisor for CHEER. “Operation Christmas a whole lot more. It’s phenomenal.”

This year, McDonald’s restaurants in Michael Meoli’s franchise chain have come on board through an employee gift-giving campaign.

County Bank in Long Neck and Meineke Car Care in Lewes both have gift trees with invites for donations of gifts for seniors from customers.

There’s a gift-giving verdict in Sussex County’s court system. Courthouse employees are collecting gifts, in conjunction with tree and snowman decorating contests on each of the three floors of the courthouse, Ms. Mason said.

Near the lobby entrance of the CHEER Community Center is a huge sleigh for gift donations.

“Our board of directors and all of the community that comes in utilizes the center, they donate wrapped gifts,” said Ms. Mason.

Through monthly meetings, Coastal AARP members are donating gifts in support the effort by CHEER, a local nonprofit that serves more than half of Sussex County’s seniors.

There are other supporters, who wish to remain anonymous, Ms. Mason said.

The gift-collecting effort at eighth McDonald’s restaurants is employee-based.

“The whole idea behind it is for employees to take ownership of it. It is their campaign. So, we want them to be successful and feel really good about what they are doing,” said CHEER Marketing Director Anthony DelFranco.

Last year, CHEER and its volunteers delivered more than 250 hot turkey dinners, wrapped gifts and poinsettias to homebound seniors Christmas morning.

As of Dec. 14, there were 252 seniors signed up for 2017 Operation Christmas CHEER.

“It will go up,” said Ms. Mason.

From left, CHEER Nutrition Supervisor Florence Mason, Sussex County Sheriff Robert Lee, Georgetown Mayor Bill West and Lori Lee gather at CHEER’s 2016 Operation Christmas.

An undertaking of this magnitude calls for a monster wrap session.

Enter the Dublin Hill 4-H Club and students from Woodbridge FFA, Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania and Delaware Technical Community College. They will congregate on Thursday, Dec. 21 at the State Service Center for a gift-wrapping session.

“It is an inter-generational activity. They come in and help us every year,” said Ms. Mason.

In addition, students will finalize 40 food boxes containing a roaster chicken from Mountaire Farms. “We fill in groceries,” said Ms. Mason. “We have identified those clients, and our outreach workers will be distributing those boxes to the seniors on that Thursday afternoon (Dec. 21).”

Pets are not forgotten.

“The other component is we identify anyone who has a pet. We’ll bring some pet food, whether it is a cat or dog. Some volunteers donate pet toys. We’ll deliver those as well,” said Mr. DelFranco. “Pets are on the Christmas list.”

CHEER employee Andrea Miller, right, helps volunteers select gifts to take to seniors at last year’s Operation Christmas CHEER.

On Christmas Day, upward of 100 volunteers are expected to help spread CHEER’s holiday cheer. Their deliveries include more than food and gifts.

“The beautiful thing about this, too, is this program has been going on for over 25 years now. And it has gone generational,” said Mr. DelFranco. “Many of the people who are delivering meals today were going with their parents 20 years ago, and now they are bringing their kids to deliver meals on Christmas Day.”

“They usually spend a little bit of time with the person that they are dropping the meal off to — a little conversation and just sharing Christmas spirit and Christmas joy,” said Mr. DelFranco. “Many of the people we are delivering to, they don’t have family in the area, or they are not going to be going anywhere for Christmas. They could be physically homebound so the people they see on Christmas Day may be the only people that they see that day.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.