Local couple brings smiles to seniors

New ministry for Santa and Friends

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Everyone associates Santa Claus with Christmas, but work during the holiday season is a small part of what the real Santa Claus, who happens to live in the Angier area, does. A new Valentine’s Day program was launched at the North Pole this month to help bring smiles to the faces of local residents of senior living facilities.

Jesse and Debbie Ferrell Cann operate the nonprofit organization Santa and Friends from their home north of Angier. What started as appearances as Santa and Mrs. Claus at local department stores 25 years ago, has evolved into a full-blown ministry. This year the reindeer were hardly resting in the stable, before they started a new effort distributing what they call love bears and handmade blankets to residents of local senior living facilities.

Throughout the Valentine season they delivered handmade blankets and teddy bears to local senior citizens, hoping to bring smiles and brighten days. One example of their efforts was the delivery of 100 teddy bears to Angier’s Oak Hill Living Center. They have also delivered bears to seniors who are shut-in at home. Both blankets and bears covered the floors of the pair’s home last week.

The blanket program was more successful than the pair anticipated.

“I had hoped for 50 blankets and we got close to 300,” Mrs. Cann said. “We have been so blessed.”

Mr. Cann said he learned something from the experience.

“The ones getting the blankets aren’t the only ones being blessed,” Mrs. Cann said. “We saw see so many people who don’t have family and people who just needed someone to pay them attention. It just feels good to see people in wheelchairs with smiles on their faces.”

The Valentine’s project isn’t even over and the local Claus couple is looking for other ways to help. One room at their North Pole home is already filling up with baby dolls which will be distributed in the spring to Alzheimer’s patients.

Research has shown that some Alzheimer’s patients, who are nonverbal with humans, can begin talking to the dolls and forming much needed relationships. Each doll is given a name, adding an even more personal touch. An entire room at the Harnett County North Pole location is now full of the dolls, covering a bed.

The couple also often helps with bookbags that are distributed to students as school starts back each year. They often minister on an individual basis, as needed. An example is the delivery of a teddy bear to young child suffering from cancer at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

In addition to all their projects, hurricanes this year have created more work and more ministry opportunities for the Canns. They have been collecting items to be distributed to victims of Hurricane Florence in areas in the eastern part of the state.

Mrs. Cann said all the couple’s work started with a gesture between them 25 years ago.

“One year we decided to stop giving Christmas presents to each other and spend that money helping other people,” Mrs. Cann said. “We didn’t open a single present that Christmas and it was one of the best Christmas holidays we have had.”

The other works started with the giveaways at Christmas. Since that time the ministry has slowly grown.

“It kind of evolved, we didn’t start out meaning to do all, this but we realized there is need all year long and we started looking for ways to have Christmas all year,” Mrs. Cann said.

She said she knows Santa would be much less effective if it weren’t for an army of elves helping throughout the year.

“We are Santa but the Friends make this ministry,” Mrs. Cann said. “There are so many people who want to help.”

An experience next month will be a new one for the pair. They will travel in March to a reunion of Santa Clauses in Gatlinberg, Tenn. There will be four days of workshops.

“We are going there to show them who is the real Santa Claus,” Mrs. Cann joked.

As part of the celebration they will participate in a parade of walking Santas, with approximately 300 other Santas taking part.

When the fun is over and they get back to Harnett County they will return to their work. They spend much of the summer collecting money and toys for their Christmas programs. They have already started taking reservations for events next Christmas season.

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