Arthur Arias doesn't get many Christmas presents these days so when six of Santa's elves showed up at his door with a surprise gift, he donned a smile that went from ear-to-ear.

"I sincerely appreciate this very much, it means a lot," said Arias, a resident at Upland's Coy D. Estes affordable senior housing.

Arias was one of 12 seniors who live at Coy Estes to receive a gift of $50 cash and a $50 gift card to Stater Bros. from the Upland Retired Employee Association, UREA, a non-profit organization.

"These are people who need a little help, they are solely dependent on their social security and that's it," said Kenny Hoover, retired Upland director of general services. "I've been blessed in so many ways I'm honored to be able to be a part of this program.

When I see all the smiles and tears from the recipients, well, it's humbling."

There are hundreds of dues-paying members of the UREA; money for the gifts come from this fund.

Hoover, who's been involved with the annual event for more than a dozen years was accompanied by Fred Schneider retired police officer, retired police chief and past association president, Martin Thouvenell, association president Nelly Van Lommel, who worked in human resources, Upland City Council member Gino Filippi, who is also on the board at Coy Estes and Tanya Burdick, assistant manager of the complex.

Hoover, Schneider and Van Lommel took turns handing out the envelopes - sometimes even accompanied by caroling of "Let it Snow" or "Sleigh Bells."

"I love this program because the seniors can pick out what they need for themselves, that's a big deal," said Burdick, who helps make the determination of who's on the year's list. "We keep track of past recipients then look for those with the 12 lowest incomes."

Requirements to be a resident at the 130-apartment complex include being 62 and, if single, having an income below $27,000.

"This time of year is very difficult for many of our residents in so many ways," Burdick said. "The gift helps a lot, these people know how to stretch $5, but also it's knowing that they are not forgotten."

It took a few minutes for Sharon Horton to compose herself after opening up her front door.

"I can't express in words how very nice this is," she said, voice cracking. "This has made my holiday very special."

Through tears, Joyce Askren invited the group into her home and offered to fry up some eggs.

"I'm having such a hard time right now; this means so much," she said. "You know, I love Upland; I love it here. Everyone here helps each other. I've spent two of the best years of my life here."

When Pam Hickok answered her door someone nonchalantly asked, "any relation?" Then was surprised to hear her answer.

Flora Torres, left, hugs President Nelly Van Lommel after she and members of the City of Upland Retired Employees Association surprised Torres with cash
Flora Torres, left, hugs President Nelly Van Lommel after she and members of the City of Upland Retired Employees Association surprised Torres with cash and a gift card Monday at the Coy D. Estes Senior Housing in Upland. (Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/Staff Photographer)

"Yes. Well not me, but my husband was a distant, distant relative," said Hickok, referring to Wild Bill. "I just want you all to know how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness; this will really come in handy. It's fun giving, but it's also nice to receive. You've made my whole day."

Mary Myers opened the door clutching her dog Angel, a chihuahua mix she adopted earlier this year from the Upland Animal Shelter.

"I am so thankful to you people," said Myers, who began to break down. "I lost my daughter at this time five years ago of ovarian cancer and I've had a hard time ever since. I love to do for others and even though I can't do very much I do all I can and this will really help."

Other recipients included: Marilyn Popolillo, Flora Torres, Betty Farruggia, Elias Vargas, Louise Raugi, Roberto Vargas and Jean Farrar.

"I've known of this program for years from those who had retired," said Van Lommel. "I couldn't wait to be a part of it. It's so heartwarming; it's what Christmas is all about." diana.sholley@inlandnewspapers.com, 909-483-9381 follow me on twitter @DianaSholley