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Be a Santa to a Senior returns for another year

The charitable program aims to bring festive cheer to lonely or out of pocket seniors
Home Instead client care co-ordinators Selena Hansen and Bryony Wilson invite all to Be a Santa to a Senior by dropping by the Home Instead offices at #301-2232 Marine Dr. in West Vancouver between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. any day of the week to pick up a gift tag for a senior and purchase a suitable gift before Dec 7. Home Instead will deliver the gifts to seniors in need. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

Santa Claus is coming to town, and if there is one cohort of people that are first and foremost on his list, it’s not the little nippers you might have in mind.

The annual ‘Be a Santa to a Senior’ campaign, initiated by homecare service Home Instead, spreads holiday cheer to lonely or financially challenged seniors in the community.

The international program, which began 20 years ago and is now in its 16th year in West Vancouver, has a simple concept. Santas can take an ornament detailing the name and desired gift of a senior from the special tree at the West Vancouver Home Instead location, found at 2232 Marine Dr., purchase the gift and pop back the present and ornament before the deadline date of Dec. 8.

“This whole program was formed to recognize that we have lonely seniors in our community,” said Janet Hassell, owner of the West Vancouver office. “We go out to some of our government homes, where there are people that are not as fortunate as most of us, with low income and no family around, who have likely had many of their friends pass away,” she said.

The wish lists often include simple, practical items, she said.

“Sometimes it’s a crossword book. Sometimes it’s shampoo or toothpaste. Sometimes socks or underwear,” said Hassell.

“Their lists are never very big, but to them it’s a big deal. There’s this little joy of a handmade card, or a little gift, or something practical, that could make their whole year special.”

Hassell said the feedback she receives from the care facilities each year is always overwhelmingly positive.

“When they’ve delivered these gifts at Christmas time, the joy they have seen in the faces of the seniors has been amazing,” she said.

When Hassell thinks of the seniors who have benefited from the program throughout the years, there are a few standouts that come to mind. Hassell recalls hand-delivering a gift to one particular elderly woman, a former model.

“We had given her a fashion magazine and a tube of lipstick, and you should have seen her face when we dropped them off,” she said. “It was like it brought back old memories that she probably hadn’t thought of for so long, of being in the fashion industry. It was more than just a gift. It was like opening up to her past, it was exciting.”

Hassall said the program has gone from strength to strength each year. Once she used to have to make a lot of phone calls to raise awareness for the program, but now she is inundated with inquiries from locals wanting to help.

In recent years she’s even been unable to gain access to her own office, it has been so crammed with gifts.

“I’ve had to work in the hallway because the offerings were so great,” she said with a laugh. “This year our goal is to collect up to 600 gifts for 200 local older adults, and it’s a goal we absolutely think we can achieve.”

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.