A Secret Santa tradition becomes a family affair

Harry Bodkin loved to make the holidays special for his entire family. So when he moved into Wesley Enhanced Living in Pennypack Park in 1996 and saw that some of his senior neighbors were alone, he got to work.

“He would fill Christmas stockings for them and, like a Secret Santa, would leave it outside their door,” said Jennifer Anderson, 43, Bodkin’s granddaughter.

The self-employed typesetter and printer would shop all year for small gifts and toiletries to include in the 120 stockings that he, friends, and family put together. Bodkin died in 2005 at age 94, but Anderson said her family – including her sons, Nathan, 11, and Lucas, 6 – are committed to continuing the gift-giving tradition.

The “Stockings for Seniors: In Memory of Harry Bodkin” project now provides Christmas stockings to about 600 residents at all six Wesley senior retirement communities. Anderson said that her family has joined with the Christmas Gala, a nonprofit organization in Bristol, to provide holiday gifts for an additional 1,200 seniors. For more information: thechristmasgala.org.

Preserving rare and endangered plants

The conservation organization Natural Lands has joined with Tyler Arboretum to collect native plant seeds in order to reintroduce rare species to both the arboretum, in Media, and to Willisbrook Preserve, in Malvern.

The preserve is home to a grassy “serpentine barrens” habitat, which contains a type of rare, greenish bedrock. The soil’s chemical characteristics are high in magnesium and nickel and low in calcium, which makes them inhospitable to most plants. The habitat is home to rare, threatened, or endangered plants and animals, which might be lost if the barrens disappear.

The seeds collected by Natural Lands and Tyler were from plant species that have adapted to the soil conditions. They will be propagated and also planted at Pink Hill, a three-acre meadow named for Phlox subulata, the native candy-colored flowering plant, which blooms there every spring. For more on the project, visit natlands.org.

Mermaids make a visit

Last month, young patients at two New Jersey hospitals got a surprise visit from Mermaids.

Two of the mythical creatures from the Adventure Aquarium in Camden — Serena and Penny — spent time at the pediatric units of Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly and the Virtua Voorhees Hospital. The pair posed for photos and signed keepsake autographs for about 30 children, some of whom serenaded the Mermaids with the popular children’s song “Baby Shark."

There was one challenge, said Ryan Hallowell, spokesperson for the aquarium. The mermaids, which have the tail of a fish, can’t walk. So Serena and Penny used wheelchairs to navigate the hospital corridors, he said.

The two aquatic creatures were part of the Mermaid Experience offered at the Aquarium during November, where they swam in the Shark Realm Exhibit or hung out with the stingrays in the touch pool.