Santa’s Helpers

Holmes is one of several residents of Town Square who donated

‘I get carried away when it comes to kids, and money doesn’t
matter. Giving toys to (terminally ill) and abused kids
– I go for that.’
Joe Holmes, gilroy resident
n By Kelly Savio Staff Writer

As a small group senior citizens hang brightly colored ornaments on a tall Christmas tree, another group sings “Frosty the Snowman.” Men and women gather around the coffee and cookies and more residents of Town Square at Village Green Senior Apartments in Gilroy trickle into the common room, drawn to the festivities.

The tree decorating and lighting is just one of the holiday activities residents participated in during a two-week-long toy drive at the facility. The seniors have been collecting toys for children of all ages to be collected and distributed by UNICO National, the largest Italian-American service organization in the United States. The toys will be distributed to terminally ill children and children from abusive homes.

During the Christmas tree-lighting activities, one resident earned a round of applause for his donations. Joe Holmes, a self-proclaimed “sentimental softy,” went so far as to donate about three shopping carts-worth of toys.

“I get carried away when it comes to kids, and money doesn’t matter,” said Holmes, 66, who depends mostly on Social Security. “Giving toys to (terminally ill) and abused kids – I go for that.”

Most of Holmes’ family – including his daughter, three grandchildren and ex-wife – live in Hollister, and he doesn’t see them often. Choosing gifts for his own grandchildren is more difficult than choosing them for the toy drive, Holmes said, because his grandchildren are picky.

But when it comes to buying for strangers, Holmes loads his shopping carts with anything on sale. Holmes befriended the store manager of a Walgreens in Los Gatos last year when he purchased several carts of toys.

The manager gives Holmes an employee discount on the toys and has even contributed money toward the donations from his own pocket.

“There were porcelain dolls, two for $10, so I got 10 dolls. There were a lot of toys that were buy one, get one free … so I just started loading carts,” he said. “I just picked at random – something for little kids and bigger kids, boys and girls.”

It doesn’t seem fair that children should suffer, Holmes said, so he tries his best to put smiles on as many young faces in hospitals during the holiday season.

“I’ve given to children’s charities for a long time, and last year I donated a lot of toys, too,” he said. “It breaks your heart to see kids on TV who are hurting. I don’t want them to hurt.”

The toy drive is part of keeping seniors active in the community, said Marjorie Stiles, Town Square’s community director.

“I brought in a little school bus that lights up and makes noises,” said Ursula Bauer, 83, a Town Square resident. “I think giving toys to children who need them is wonderful. I was happy to do it.”

The mountain of toys the residents collected occupied a large corner of Stiles’ office. Donations filled two large plastic trash bins, overflowed onto the floor and into large piles of dolls, stuffed animals, miniature trucks and board games.

“These children have been through a lot, so I think they deserve a little joy at Christmas,” said Joan Powell, a resident who donated stuffed animals.

Town Square at Village Green Senior Apartments is an affordable community, Stiles said. Single residents must earn less than $40,000 annually and couples must earn less than $50,000 annually, and many of the residents don’t have a lot to spend.

“But when these residents feel like there’s something they can do for their community, when they can do something special for someone else, they do anything they can,” Stiles said. “All of us in our hearts want to help others. And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?”