UTICA, NY-- For the past 17 years a local Santa Claus has been collecting and delivering gifts to residents at the Heritage Health Care Center for Christmas, and on Wednesday she was honored for her efforts.
Each year Sandy, 'Santa Claus' Smith, and a group of volunteers buy and wrap gifts for the resident at the center. Smith started collecting gifts for the in 2001, the year her mother was treated at the center before she died. It started with presents for 10 residents and this year it's grown to providing gifts to 173 residents.
Some of the presents include jackets, clothes, an old truck calendar even a special hat for a navy veteran.
This year Smith is stepping down as an organizer, but she said giving gifts to others every year has made her Christmas brighter.
"My brother was killed in Vietnam in December," she said. "December was always a hard time for me also," she said. "It was my husband and my anniversary date and he's been gone now for 14 years and so this is kind of something to get me through the holidays. It's kind of special because I have a friend who comes up from Virginia every year and she and I shop... and she comes up purposely just to help with us so it's just kind of it's kind of special for the holidays."
Smith credits the roughly 90 other volunteers for their help with the gifts.