In the 2019 Christmas Cheer program we connected over 5560 isolated or lonely seniors with Secret Santas.
We have strong relationships with seniors’ groups, housing facilities, outreach programs and health care providers. These partner agencies eagerly participate in the program, providing anonymous personal profiles of isolated seniors. The profiles include the senior’s first name, age, gender, hobbies, needs and preferences. Once we receive the profiles, we match the senior with a volunteer Secret Santa from the community.
Each Secret Santa shops for a personalized gift for “their” senior, using the profile provided by our partner agencies. This can include anything from toiletry items and slippers to specialized clothing and grocery store gift cards. As some seniors live independently and are able to have pets, the Secret Santa will often include something for the pet as well. For more mobile seniors, tickets to sporting activities or a small gift card to Tim Horton’s are also very well received. This type of gift provides the opportunity for the senior to get out and participate in the larger community.
For many of our seniors these gifts are important items they would not normally receive. Things like new clothing, undergarments and toiletry items are often difficult for seniors with mobility issues or cognitive difficulties to come by on their own. It is not always a case of them not being able to financially afford these items (although this can be true as well) it is often simply a logistical issue – they have no one who can go to the store and purchase these items for them.
For many, being a Secret Santa is a family activity; for others it is something that they do within a group. Many will call and say they are doing this in honour of a grandparent that they have lost; others wonder if perhaps they too may need this service in the future. It seems that most everyone is touched by the thought of isolated seniors and are motivated to do whatever possible to let them know they are not forgotten.
Calgary Police Service district offices act as collection points for the gifts. Volunteers then transport the gifts to a warehouse where they are checked over and sorted into site locations. In the weeks leading up to Christmas the gifts are delivered to the partner agencies, who personally deliver the gifts to the seniors.
The Christmas Cheer program starts in September when the invitations to past Secret Santas are sent out and winds down by the end of February with the last of the administrative duties such as mailing of tax receipts and thank you letters. The Executive Director begins making site visits to partner agencies in March and continues through until July. Santas sign up in September and senior profiles are sent out beginning in mid October.