Kamloops’ Centre for Seniors Information (CSI) is hoping for another robust year of its Secret Santa gift program.
Amidst the pandemic last year, it was one of the few initiatives that in fact thrived, ensuring nearly 700 seniors experiencing loneliness during the holidays had at least one present under the tree, up from about 200 seniors in 2019.
“If I can do around 200 or more again, then I think it would be incredibly successful,” CSI executive director Brandi Allen told KTW.
Allen said she felt people found a new appreciation for the program, realizing what it can be like for seniors living in isolation when provincial health orders such as lockdowns came into effect at the onset of the pandemic.
“I think it just created this common bond,” she said. “Kamloops has always been an incredibly generous community, especially for this program, but last year I think the overwhelming response was, sadly, having to do with people experiencing that level of isolation as well.”
The 10-year-old program started out small, delivering between 70 and 150 care packages to seniors identified as being isolated in Kamloops.
This year, donations are already starting to come in, as are the number of seniors being nominated to receive gifts.
Packages are filled with standard items, such as toothbrushes, razors, deodorants, socks, gloves, tuques, puzzle books and blankets. There are also handmade items from children of local schools.
The CSI tries to personalize each gift by including items it knows each person wants or needs. Food hampers are also included as needed. The gifts are then delivered to the home of each senior.
Local organizations and friends, family and neighbours typically sign up respective seniors to receive the gifts.
Until 2020, the packages were focused primarily on seniors living on their own, but that changed when the pandemic added a new layer of isolation for all seniors, including those in care.
For that reason, the CSI sent care packages to seniors living in both settings, contributing to the spike in number of gifts.
Allen has been involved in the program for the past eight years and recalled how happy seniors were to see her when she started out as a delivery person, one year handing out only three of 10 packages she had to give out in a day because everyone she visited wanted her to stay and talk for a while.
That, for Allen, emphasized the need for the program.
“I was potentially the only visitor they had in months, if not the entire year, so it was really eye-opening to learn how many people don’t have any family or any support in Kamloops,” Allen said.
To nominate a senior to receive a Secret Santa gift or to donate gifts or cash contact Allen at the CSI by phone at 778-470-6000 or by email at brandi@csi