Helping seniors one gift at a time
For most, the holiday season is a time for visiting with friends and family, sharing meals together, and exchanging gifts with loved ones. But many senior citizens living in our community often spend the holidays alone. Kirkland resident Alana Edwards and her “Santa to a Senior” initiative aims to break the isolation and bring a spark of cheer to Montreal seniors who may not otherwise receive gifts during the holiday season.
Local businesses lend a hand
Started by Edwards three years ago, the 2022 Santa to a Senior MTL campaign launched its third season on November 12 with the arrival of Christmas trees and tags at local West Island businesses.
With a background in special care counselling in gerontology, and having previously worked at seniors’ residences, Edwards’ interest was initially piqued after seeing a Facebook article about a similar program in Toronto. After contacting her cousin who works in a residence, plans were quickly set in motion. “I messaged her right away and I was like, do you want to try this? Within a week she provided me with a list of seniors and their gift requests. I had a friend who worked at Provigo, so I got them on board to host one of trees, and within a week we were all set to go.”
Response from the community was swift, with all 200 gift request tags taken within the first two days of being displayed, and one residence grew to a total of five being supplied with gifts. “I was mind blown by how fast [the tags] went and how many people wanted to help,” Edwards said.
COVID restrictions in 2020 put even more strain on seniors and more residences asked to be included. “They weren’t seeing their family,” Edwards said. “They weren’t able to see anybody. So, to get a gift through us was so needed. At that point, I ended up having 13 residences and about 500 seniors.”
In 2021, 25 residences — from St-Eustache, LaSalle, Ile-Perrot, and the West Island — took part and more than 2,000 gifts were distributed during the second week of December. This year is gearing up to be even busier, with 31 residences and almost 3,000 seniors signed up so far.
How it works
Christmas trees are set up in community partners’ reception areas and inside stores, where each senior’s gift request is written on a Santa to a Senior MTL gift tag. Requested gifts include small items such as slippers, stuffed animals, chocolates, cozy blankets, books, and puzzles. Holiday shoppers and people frequenting the businesses can pick up a tag (or more), purchase the item(s) on the tag, and return the unwrapped gifts and tag to any tree location.
The Santa to a Senior MTL campaign starts November 12 and gifts and tags need to be returned to the trees by December 3.
Here’s how to get involved:
- Visit a participating Santa to a Senior MTL location.
- Remove the gift tag with the senior’s first name and gift request from a tree.
- Purchase the requested gift listed on the tag.
- Return the unwrapped gift and gift tag to any participating location and place it by the tree.
Those who can’t make it out to a tree location to grab a tag can use the new-in-2022 website where you pick a tag online, “purchase” it by reserving the tag, and then bring the gift you purchase unwrapped to any of the tree locations by December 3.
Edwards and her team of volunteers will collect, store, wrap, and deliver each gift to the residences. “Having everything back to us by December 3 gives us a week to organize and wrap and make sure everything’s there. Just like Santa, we’re checking our list once, twice, multiple times!”
In addition to individuals and families purchasing gifts for seniors; school classes, scouting groups, daycares, and companies can also become involved. This year, the Montreal Canadiens wives have already stepped up and fulfilled a large request for bath towels. “If people feel that they would like to help even more, they can provide an (empty) gift box,” Edwards said. “Not gift bags, as they’re really hard to stack and transport.” Individuals or companies can also offer monetary donations that Edwards will put towards purchasing gifts and supplies.
The Santa to a Senior MTL Facebook and Instagram pages list the participating locations with trees and tags and can be followed at @santa2aseniormtl. People or companies interested in helping can contact Edwards by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Edwards has already started to collect wrapping supplies. Tape, gift boxes (not gift bags), and tissue paper can be dropped off at Lubrification D.D.O. at 4299 St. Jean in Dollard-des-Ormeaux.