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Secret Santas show the joy of giving to lonely seniors

In this Helpers feature we meet up with a group of secret Santas for the launch of Home Instead Senior Care’s, Be a Santa to a Senior campaign

Everyone enjoys getting a gift at Christmas and the organizers and volunteers of the, Be a Santa to a Senior, program want to help lonely and isolated seniors share in the joy.

“Home Instead Senior Care has been running the program since 2003 North America wide,” said Home Instead Senior Care franchise owner Michael Smith. “We have serviced 1.2 million gifts in that time and over 700,000 seniors.”

The program is new to the Guelph area.

“This is the first year in Guelph and also in Kitchener Waterloo with the Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington”, said Smith. “We have reached out to 50 seniors in the community between Cambridge, Guelph and Kitchener Waterloo. So, we are starting with that this year and hopefully we grow as the years go on.”

They launched the program Nov 18 and placed their first tree in the front lobby of the Chartwell Wellington Park Retirement Residence at 181 Janefield Ave in Guelph.

“Home Instead reached out to us here at Chartwell Wellington Park to see if over the holiday season we would like to host one of their trees,” said Kacie Schneider, activities coordinator at Chartwell Wellington Park Retirement Residence. “The program works by being a secret Santa to isolated or low-income seniors in the community.”

Selected seniors are asked what they want for Christmas and an ornament tag that lists the senior’s first name and the gift they want is filled out and hung on the tree.

“Christmas is a wonderful time but, unfortunately, for many people living with dementia at Christmas it can be confusing and lonely time,” said Michelle Martin, executive director for the Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington. “Having a program such as this, which is just wonderful, is that little surprise for someone and brightens up their day. Our motto is to help people live their best day and we think this aligns very nicely with that.”

People that want to donate are encouraged to visit the front lobby of Chartwell Wellington Park and select one of the ornament tags from the Be a Santa to a Senior Christmas tree then purchase the gift requested.

“They then bring back the gift with the ornament and place it under the tree,” said Smith. “Volunteers will wrap the presents and deliver them to the seniors before Christmas.”

The home deliveries are exciting for the seniors and the volunteers.

“I have been busy coordinating the volunteers that actually do the deliveries and there is so much excitement about the deliveries,” said Barb Eastman-Lewis from the Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington. “There is a really great cross section of volunteers who want to help with the program. It’s a real team effort.”

Residents and visitors to Chartwell Wellington Park are eager to get involved with the program.

“The response has been great,” said Schneider. “People really love the idea, especially here in the retirement home. I think residents’ families and a lot of the staff have found it to be really something different that we can get behind.”

A small anonymous gesture of generosity can go a long way.

“Can you imagine how that would brighten someone’s day,” said Martin. “They simply ask for what they want, and they get a gift of kindness from a stranger, which is amazing. It is just that special spark to someone’s day.”