‘Secret Santa’ lives on as family carries on tradition

Jen­nifer An­drews helps son Nath­an, 4, with the Christ­mas stock­ings at Wes­ley En­hanced Liv­ing on Sat­urday, Decem­ber 8, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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 twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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