Tucson Electric Power volunteers have included hospice patients and their families in their holiday giving for 34 years.
Three Santas, one Mrs. Claus, and several elves – mostly retired and current TEP employees who volunteer through the company’s Community Action Team – shared fully cooked Christmas meals and gifts with 18 families on Wednesday.
Ron Runion, a construction group lead for the power company, and his bride of 40 years, Ellen, have been donating their time to hospice patients for the past seven years.
“It’s a worthy cause and we appreciate the opportunity to give back to the community,” said Runion, who was mistaken for Santa by a child in a grocery store about nine years ago, after his black beard turned white.
That case of mistaken identity led to the purchase of a Santa suit and he now makes appearances for several nonprofit organizations each season, including the Tucson Botanical Gardens and Pima Animal Care Center, with Ellen, as Mrs. Claus, by his side.
Patients and caregivers got a kick out of seeing Santa at their doorstep, carrying holiday treats. “You’ll bless a lot of people today,” said one woman, whose husband enrolled in hospice three weeks ago, and even into his eighth decade, was not too old to have his photo taken with Santa.
After making deliveries to hospice patients in their homes, the Runions stopped by Peppi’s House to visit with patients.
TEP retiree Curtis Brooks was one of the co-founders of the hospice holiday program, which started when employees decided to give back to those struggling over the holidays. After some discussion, they settled on hospice. “We wanted to make sure they weren’t forgotten at the holidays and to let them know someone is thinking about them,” Brooks said, adding the holiday season can be difficult for those facing loss.
Brooks said volunteering is rewarding. “It makes me realize how very fortunate I’ve been,” he said.
Krista Durocher, volunteer coordinator for Peppi’s House, said she was touched by the graciousness of the TEP employees, who also donated cooked meals over the Thanksgiving holiday. “It is wonderful that our patients and families can experience firsthand the kindness of strangers, who are giving that extra support at what can be an emotional or challenging time. As a local non-profit, we are deeply grateful for the community’s support.”