When Aiken resident Mary Carter and her Yorkshire terrier, Buddy, stepped out of her home on Friday morning to see a 5-and-a-half-foot Easter bunny, Carter clasped her hands over her mouth, beaming with excitement.


“I'm just so excited; this is darling,” Carter said. “I don't really do anything for Easter, and yes, it's exciting for a bunny to come. It's just so wonderful and so sweet of y'all.”


United Way of Aiken County sprinkled a bit of spring fever throughout the Aiken community on Friday with its Be A Bunny outreach program, handing out donated Easter baskets to local senior citizens. United Way creates and delivers hundreds of baskets each year, and more than half of those baskets go to the Aiken Area Council on Aging for its recipients of meals on weekdays.


Additional baskets go through the agency's group-dining program, and leftover baskets are passed around at area nursing homes, according to Lindsey Rosenlieb with United Way of Aiken County.


“It's really fun to do this kind of outreach program for seniors, and it's because it's something we get to do directly in the community, just to influence someone's day,” Rosenlieb said. “It's just fun to be a part of that and see the community support.”


In the past two years, Rosenlieb said United Way has passed around more than 700 baskets, and the number this year was sure to be just as high.


“Clubs, organizations, individuals, schools and churches all come together and make baskets,” Rosenlieb said. “It's exciting to see it come together, and also to deliver and then interact with the seniors.”


Mandy Sims, with UPS, played bunny for her second year, hugging each basket recipient and posing for pictures. Sims, who also does a great deal of work with United Way, said the best part about the day is seeing the look on the recipients' faces when baskets are handed to them.


“They are very appreciative and very happy,” Sims said. “Sometimes this is the only person they see during the day, and it's very exciting to see their excitement. It's great to see how much the community gives back to our local senior citizens.”


Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree with the University of North Carolina Asheville. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.