Crawford County residents can give cheer during the holiday season by participating in the Be a Santa to a Senior program and providing gifts to area seniors.

The holidays can be a difficult time for many, especially those who live alone or have lost spouses and loved ones.

An estimated 27 percent of people 65 and older, about 10.8 million people, are widowed, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Further, the Administration on Aging reports about 28 percent non-institutionalized people 65 and older live alone.

Be a Santa to a Senior is run by the local Home Instead Senior Care office in Fort Smith, in partnership with United Federal Credit Union, area retailers, volunteers and members of the community. The program helps ensure isolated seniors receive gifts and companionship during the holidays.

"Be a Santa to a Senior gives back to older adults in our area, many of whom have had significant, positive influence on our lives," said Jonathan Fry, owner of the Fort Smith branch of Home Instead Senior Care. "During this season of giving, we encourage shoppers to buy a little extra to say thank you to these community members."

Retailers participating in the program will display Christmas trees until Dec. 16 that feature ornaments with seniors’ first names and their gift requests.

Holiday shoppers can pick an ornament from these trees, buy the items listed and return them unwrapped to the store, with the ornament attached. Be a Santa to a Senior trees will be located at local United Federal Credit Union branches.

Fry’s Home Instead office will enlist volunteers from its staff, senior-care business associates and non-profit workers to collect, wrap and distribute the gifts to local seniors who might otherwise spend the holiday alone.

For more information visit BeaSantatoaSenior.com or call (479) 434-6960.