PORT RICHEY — Joy Cook was struck by the simplicity of the items on the wish lists.
Barrettes and combs and hand lotion.
"They're very basic items you and I touch every day," said Cook, owner of Home Instead Senior Care in New Port Richey, which organizes the annual "Be a Santa to a Senior" gift drive.
But the simple gifts — wrapped in cheery paper and the knowledge that someone cares — will bring joy to hundreds of Pasco seniors who might otherwise get nothing for Christmas.
Dozens of volunteers worked into the night Wednesday at the Regency Park Civic Association, wrapping presents that will be distributed to seniors across the county. Some are in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Others still live in their own home.
"Sometimes they are forgotten individuals, or they may have outlived everybody in their family," Cook said. "Or because people are financially strapped, they won't be getting anything for Christmas."
Last year, Home Instead rounded up about 1,200 presents for 236 seniors. This year's effort is nearly twice that size, with 412 seniors, give or take, on Santa's list.
Trees and wreaths with individualized wish lists sprang up at more than 40 Pasco businesses. Home Instead, which provides cooking, light cleaning and other non-medical assistance to help retirees stay in their homes, also distributed lists of "stocking stuffer" ideas.
The unwrapped gifts poured in. Joanne Therrell, owner of Legacy Transitions, a senior moving service, offered a moving truck to pick up the presents. She persuaded Bayonet Point Storage to provide a free unit to house the goods.
Students at PACE Center for Girls decorated sheets of gift tags and rolls of wrapping paper by hand, with bright markers in swirly strokes.
"It's really just beautiful stuff," said Jackie Barnes, a caregiver with Home Instead, as she finished wrapping a purse and lotion set for one woman. Barnes, who wore a Santa hat and jingle bell earrings, brought her granddaughter and two neighbors to help wrap presents.
The tables of plenty were a relief to Barb Glader, who had worried the sour economy would cause donations to dry up.
"Even though it's tough times, everybody wants to help out someone who's worse off than them," said Glader, an office worker for Home Instead.
The presents will be delivered in the coming days. Some facilities will hold onto the gifts and place them in patients' rooms early Christmas morning.
Barnes can't bring herself to do the delivery for the same reason Glader wouldn't dream of missing it:
They know everyone will be crying.