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TARCOG Winter Wishes Coming True


Thanks to the hundreds of generous sponsors for TARCOG’s 2023 Winter Wishes campaign, there’s three holiday-wrapped gift boxes sitting under a tree in the home of a 79-year-old TARCOG client who plans to open them on Christmas morning.

“She told me she put up the tree because she knew I was bringing a gift,” said Danasia Sowers, a case manager in the Medical Waiver Program. “She received three boxes … These are the only presents she will receive this year and she was so excited to get them.”

This was just one of 361 TARCOG clients who created a Winter Wish list that’s been fulfilled this year. An additional 70 clients under the age of 60 still have an unmet wish, said Melissa Brinkley, manager of the Medicaid Waiver Program. Monetary donations are currently being accepted to finish this year’s campaign, she added.

TARCOG’s Medicaid Waiver Program serves more than 800 clients of all ages in DeKalb, Jackson, Limestone, Madison and Marshall counties. The holiday campaign, which was previously called Santa for Seniors, started in 2002 as a simple gesture to pass on kindness and joy to those in need, Brinkley said. The campaign starts in early fall with the home and community-based care case managers collecting up to three wishes from clients, setting the expectation they will receive at least one item on their list. Then TARCOG partners with community sponsors to help brighten the lives of seniors during the holiday season. Every year, including this year, the campaign grows. This year the name was changed to TARCOG Winter Wishes because while TARCOG serves mostly seniors, it also has clients from every age groups.

Amber Millimaki, coordinator of this year’s TARCOG Winter Wishes, said there’s a lot of work that goes into the campaign from staff to collect the wish lists, the community sponsors who spend their time and money to buy and wrap the packages, as well as usually deliver them to the TARCOG office. Staff picks up some donated packages and shops for others as needed before case managers distribute gifts throughout the month of December as they make their monthly visits.

“I would like to say a big thank you to all of the sponsors because this would never happen without their support,” Millimaki said. “Christmas is my favorite time of the year and being a part of this brought so much joy to me. I am so happy I got to be involved.”

Case Manager Julie Staggs delivered the first of her client’s presents on Friday, Dec. 1 to a 74-year-old woman. It consisted of a bedside commode topped with a bow and two other gift bags.

“She just kept repeating ‘this is really, really, nice,” about the commode that she needed because it’s hard for her to get on and off of a regular toilet,” Julie said. “One of the other packages was a coffee pot that she and her husband were excited about, and she reserved one package to open later.”

Julie said she was glad to be able to deliver the items to the client because she really needed them. “She is so sweet and does not have a lot of help, hardly any at all, and she was really excited,” she added.

Case Manager Martina Hermes said she truly feels like Santa Claus after the first gifts she dropped off on Dec. 1. She smiled thinking of the 87-year-old woman who was waiting on her to arrive with her gifts.

“She was so thankful and happy,” Martina said. “She had asked for clothing items, and she didn’t open them while I was there, but she promised to let me know how they fit when she opened them up and tried them on.”

Another client was also appreciative, but he set his gifts aside to open later. Some don’t know what to say because they’re overwhelmed, the case managers said.

Most all the wishes came fulfilled in beautifully wrapped boxes and festive holiday gift bags. They included everything from pens and pencils to linens and cookware. Walkers, canes, adult incontinence and cleaning supplies, and even HVAC air filters were items requested.

“Many of sponsors go above and beyond and do even more than what was requested by adding extra unexpected items and notes to brighten their spirits,” Brinkley said. “Then there’s the care and thought that goes into the packages, sometimes our clients don’t want to open up the gifts because they are wrapped so pretty.”

Sheila Dessau-Ivey, director of TARCOG’s Area Agency on Aging, couldn’t say enough good things about the TARCOG Winter Wishes sponsors. She said new sponsors are added each year, but there are several who participate year after year by adopting multiple seniors and that is what make the campaign so successful. And that’s what brings smile after smile, like the one Danasia experienced with her client, with unopened gifts under her tree.

The client wanted to put them under the tree so she can open them on Christmas morning, Danasia said after dropping off the package during a visit on Monday, Dec. 4.

“A lot of my clients have no family or support and sometimes I am the only one who ever visits them and that means that the gift I take is the only one they will receive the whole entire year,” Danasia said. “For example, just now, I saw another client who normally doesn’t get out of bed, but today she got up because she said, ‘I just want to hug you and I love you so much,’ so seeing that reaction when their whole world just lights up, it just warms my heart.”

For more information or to make a contribution, contact Amber Millimaki at 256-684-6611, or


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