Community replaces stolen seniors' gifts

Thousands of Christmas gifts for senior citizens have been replaced after they were stolen.
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Just days before delivering gifts to local seniors, a charity's donations were stolen by thieves. But that burglary turned into an unexpected blessing, thanks to generous Hoosiers.

The gifts being wrapped Wednesday in Monroe County mean more than most. It's not just because of their contents, but because of the reason residents gave them.

"Their hearts opened up and out they came," explained Area 10 Agency on Aging Director Kerry Conway.

Every year, the non-profit Area 10 Agency on Aging and Home instead play Santa, delivering donated gifts to homebound senior citizens. The gifts include necessities like blankets, non-slip socks, toothpaste and shampoo.

But this season's joy was in jeopardy.

Just a few days ago, someone stole all of the original gifts for seniors, which were being stored in a volunteer's garage.

"The volunteer met him outside and said did you already pick up the presents? And Joe said no, and he said, 'Well, we've got a problem'," Conway said.

"Empty. There were a few bags here and there and stuff that had fallen out of the bags, but it was just an empty garage," said Joe Yonkman, of Home Instead Senior Care.

Thousands of dollars in needed items were gone.

"It just devastated us, it really did," Conway said.

But then, something special happened.

"People started showing up at the door on Friday," Conway said.

A Facebook message about the burglary caused donors to come out in droves. So many necessities were dropped off this week, organizers were able to not only replenish what was robbed, but also add 250 more seniors to Santa's list.

"It's pretty inspiring," Yonkman said. "To see the response has been incredible."

"Plus, people donated the wrapping paper and the bags for wrapping. It's just been an outpouring and it's just been stunning," Conway said.

The donations keep coming. In fact, another load of items is expected on Thursday. Volunteers will start delivering the gifts then, too.

Organizers call it a Christmas miracle, made possible by generous Hoosiers.

"If the Grinch that stole our Christmas gifts had a heart that's two sizes too small, the heart of this community is more than large enough to make up for the occasional Grinch," Conway said. "It's just demonstrated what an amazing community we come from."