Nancy Hum still remembers the moment when she delivered a pair of slippers to an elderly man through Be a Santa to a Senior program now underway in six locations across the Greater Victoria area.
Somebody had purchased the slippers through the program run by Home Instead Senior Care and Hum was just a volunteer delivering the box to the man, who “wearing an old pair of thin sandals with no grip, very slippery, an accident waiting to happen.”
Once he had taken the slippers reverently out of the box, he put them on and walked around the room. They fit.
He began to tear up, his chin wobbling. “He looks up at me in wonder, and said, ‘I can’t remember the last time anyone ever thought of me or gave me a present at Christmas. Thank you.’” Hum responded in kind. “I had tears in my eyes and a wobbly chin too.”
Such experiences are what keeps Hum coming back as a volunteer for the program that sees Home Instead Senior Care partner with local non-profit and community organizations to identify seniors who might not otherwise receive gifts this holiday season. Those seniors then identify what they’d most like to find under the tree.
The requested gifts then appear on Be a Santa to a Senior bulbs hanging off Christmas trees placed with participating retail partners.
Individuals can then place the bulbs, along with the purchased gift(s), in designated boxes. Buyers do not need to worry about wrapping, as community volunteers and program partners will wrap and deliver the gifts in time for the holidays.
Alistair Hicks, owner of Home Instead Senior Care office based in Saanich, said the initiative started when one Home Instead franchisee placed a tree with wishes inside an outlet of a large retail chain.
While the arrangement with the retailer ended after a couple of years, it did not go unnoticed. “Our head office picked up on it, and basically said, ‘this is a fantastic program, let’s roll it out to the whole network [of some 1,100 locations],’” he said during an interview, as his company kicked off the campaign.
Hicks said traditional accounts of Christmas often revolve around children, who might not be able to receive gifts, because they might not be sick or socially disadvantaged.
“So during Christmas, you always think about the children,” he said. “The idea behind this is that there are a lot of lonely, very disadvantaged seniors, who also appreciate just knowing that somebody is thinking about them, just knowing that somebody is taking a few minutes to get a gift for that person.”
This feeling alone can be quite powerful, especially, during a time of year that can bring up feelings of social isolation, he said.
The program will distribute about 500 gifts. “We have been doing it since 2005, and each year, word gets around a bit more,” he said.
Nominated seniors are the most isolated, the most lonely, the most disadvantaged, and generally ask for what Hicks calls are “every-day items” that range from clothing items such as hats, socks and dressing gowns to household items like alarms clocks.
Those who fulfill those wishes will then often add extras like chocolates, food, or gift cards to grocery or book stores, he said.
These wishes are revealing, said Hicks. “They are asking for very normal items, which we may not think off as gifts, but obviously, they are in need of it. It tells me that they are living on the fringe, living on the poverty line perhaps.”
Hum agrees. “Some of these people have been forgotten and fallen through cracks,” she said.
Programs like Home Instead Senior Care in turn give them a sense of dignity, while breaking their social isolation.
“Everybody needs that social connection to remain healthy, and when that part is missing, a huge part of you is missing,” she said.
To learn more, see Be a Santa to a Senior.
Walmart Uptown, Walmart Langford, Progressive Chiropractic (1595 McKenzie Ave.), Forbes Pharmacy (755 Goldstream Ave.), Heart Pharmacy (3643 Shelbourne St.), and Sooke Evergreen Physiotherapy (6726 West Coast Rd., Sooke) are participating businesses.