Harry Bodkin spent a decade playing a “Secret Santa” while he lived at Evangelical Manor, now Wesley Enhanced Living Pennypack.
“He saw a lot of people who didn’t have company and asked management for a list,” recalled his daughter, Jeri Morse. “He gave them stockings. He didn’t want anybody to feel left out.”
Bodkin died in November 2005, but before he passed he asked his family to keep the tradition alive.
“I assured him we’d keep doing this forever,” his daughter said.
Today, the Harry Bodkin Stocking Fund is coordinated by his granddaughter, Jennifer Anderson, an activities director at Wesley Enhanced Living Burholme.
This year, 250 stockings filled with goodies will be distributed to personal care and skilled nursing residents and recent widows and widowers at Wesley Enhanced Living’s Pennypack, Burholme and Upper Moreland properties.
A wrapping party took place on Saturday at WEL Pennypack, at 8401 Roosevelt Blvd.
“It’s a feel-good project before the Christmas season rolls around,” Anderson said. “You should always give back. It’s not only about receiving.”
Soon after moving into the retirement home, Bodkin noticed a lonely old woman whose son rarely visited her. That inspired him to become the Secret Santa to the home’s skilled nursing residents.
In the beginning, Bodkin would stuff felt stockings, wait until residents fell asleep on Christmas Eve, then hang the stockings on their doorknobs so they’d have a pleasant surprise in the morning.
Bodkin purchased most of the items at dollar stores.
“He was the type to shop all year long,” Anderson said of her Pop Pop.
Nowadays, Anderson helps fund the project with an annual beef and beer at the Eddington Room in Bensalem. She also accepts donations of goods and money.
Kraft Nabisco, Just Born, Dietz & Watson and the OPI nail manufacturing product company are some of the donors.
“There are so many, I couldn’t even list,” Anderson said. “We’re very grateful.”
On Saturday, volunteers — including Anderson’s 4-year-old son Nathan — filled the stockings while listening to holiday music. They had to follow just two rules, passed on by Bodkin.
“Everything has to be wrapped, and everybody gets animal crackers,” Morse said.
Bodkin wrapped his gifts so recipients would have the added pleasure of opening them on Christmas morning. He included Nabisco Barnum’s Animal Crackers — the brand with a string attached to the box — to be hung as a Christmas tree ornament.
Other stocking prizes include fashionable pouches that residents without pockets can hang around their necks. Dorothy Maminski, a 95-year-old WEL Pennypack resident, sewed more than 200 pouches after her fellow Ladies of the Manor cut the cloth for her.
After all the wrapping was done, the stockings were stuffed in assembly-line fashion.
Besides animal crackers and pouches, the stockings included stuffed animals; socks; pocket tissues; shower gel; hand lotion; combs; Blistex; peanut butter crackers; cookies, and candies.
“Obviously, the men don’t get lipstick and nail polish, but for the most part, everybody gets the same exact thing,” Morse said.
The volunteers loved continuing the tradition started by Harry Bodkin.
“My thrill and my favorite part are watching the chaos become order at the end,” said WEL Pennypack resident Barbara Clippinger. “The room looks like hell and ends up with stockings that bring joy.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org