By Amy Daybert Herald writer
EVERETT — Marketing director Jody Haines was watching a news report one evening when she got an idea.
The segment was about a program called Secret Santa in which business professionals and executives voluntarily spend time during the holiday season handing out money to people who may need a little additional cheer.
Haines noticed the program was primarily on the East Coast.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t we do that?’” she said. “We can spread the word and get (Secret Santa) here.”
So Haines, who works at Somerset Memory Care Community in Everett, asked her co-workers if they wanted to start a similar program. She described the concept to Gale Browne, who is the administrator for Somerset, an assisted living community for those with memory loss.
They decided Somerset would give $50 debit gift cards and several boxes of chocolates and other sweets to eight people in need.
The Secret Santas put on their Santa hats Thursday morning and headed out to find a few lucky recipients at the Everett Senior Center and Everett Downtown Goodwill.
The gift of a $50 gift card and the box of sweets surprised Everett resident Peter Borg, 65, at the Everett Senior Center.
“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” he said. “I have no Christmas money and my parents are living in their early 90s. This will make it a little bit easier for me to get something for my family.”
The Secret Santas also gave to Lola Berkompas, 79. Berkompas, who’s at the center almost every day, plans to visit her niece and nephew in Arlington this Christmas.
“This is very much a surprise,” she said. “I think I’ll buy groceries with (the gift card).”
At Everett Goodwill, employee Brianna Simpson was presented with one of the $50 gift cards when Browne and Haines came through her line. The money will help her buy food, she said.
“I get paid and it goes toward my rent,” Simpson said. “I can’t wait. This feels great.”
Originally Haines said she thought to go to the homes of individual seniors and surprise them, but she didn’t have the time to get everything organized. Visiting the senior center and Goodwill store instead worked better than expected, Browne and Haines agreed.
“It’s amazing how big it is in a small way just to put a little bit of brightness in someone’s day during the holiday season,” Browne said.
Goodwill store supervisor Pete Spreine said he enjoyed seeing others receive the surprise gifts.
“To see them get something extra is truly a blessing,” he said. “I see so many people who are needy, and we only have a few organizations that we can always count on. There’s not a lot of goodwill and good cheer, so this is really nice.”
Browne and Haines said they’re planning to surprise more people next year.
They hope this year’s Secret Santa endeavor will encourage other businesses in the area to do something similar in 2010.
“I just really think it’s something positive that we need right now,” Haines said. “Although we care for those with memory loss, we never forget the needs of others, especially during the holiday season.”
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491, adaybert@ heraldnet.com.