Santa to a Senior back bigger and better

Santa to a Senior back bigger and better
HALDIMAND— Shown (l-r) are Adele Searles, Rebecca Piironen, Melissa Burgess (back), Sarah Hague (front), Nicole Selby, Steve Wilton, and Lynn Martin – just some of the team that collected and distributed more than 450 gifts to local seniors. —Submitted photos.

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND — Santa to a Senior, a local initiative dedicated to gifting local seniors in the community, has successfully wrapped up their second year, delivering over 450 gifts, many of them personalized, to a variety of long-term care facilities throughout Haldimand and surrounding areas.

“We’ve been in the crunch time for the past week. It’s been very, very hectic. A lot of long nights trying to pull everything together at the last minute,” said Hague.

Preparation for the program started back in the fall, when Hague, along with her co-planners, EMT Nicole Selby, and Laurel Werbeski, owner of Escape in Caledonia began working through the logistics for an expanded program that would top last year’s success.

Home Hardware in both Hagersville and Caledonia, as well as Escape in Caledonia volunteered as drop-off locations, with Escape being used as the main storage site for the donated gifts.

“There was a lot of moving pieces that we were trying to align at the same time, which was a challenge,” she explained.

As part of their plan to expand the program for 2021, the organizers had a plan to coordinate with local LTC homes to get lists of personalized gifts for the residents, which would then be assigned to program participants.

HALDIMAND—Gifts were delivered to their destinations in a small fleet of festively decorate vehicles.

“Getting the information from the homes was a struggle. We wanted to collect individual wishes, but because of COVID we weren’t allowed to go in and collect them ourselves, so we were relying on their staff, who are already overworked, to get that information. That took a lot longer than we were expecting. Even once we received that information from the homes, the logistics of connecting that information with every person who signed up to get a gift was a challenge we didn’t have last year when the gifts were all generic.”

Hague said that despite the lack of ‘tech-savviness’ among the core team, they found a way to make it work, using an app called Survey Monkey, which organized data and helped them to divide and match recipients with donors. From there, Hague spent four straight evenings sending over 300 individual emails to every participant with the necessary details about the senior they had been matched with.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” she said.

Once the gifts had been dropped off and collected, the team went about the task of going through everything and making sure that every assigned gift was accounted for, which, of course, they were not: “We did unfortunately have about 30-35 gifts that didn’t show up that we had committed to. We found ourselves in a last-minute scramble… we didn’t know which ones didn’t come in until Thursday and they were supposed to be delivered by Friday… everyone came together, and we figured it out.”

So, now that it’s all said and done, did the extra effort to make the gifts more personal pay off? 

“It’s hard to say because we’re not there when they open it to see how much more of an impact it makes for the person receiving it. For the people donating, the people who got a request for a specific gift (there were still some homes that were unable to supply specific requests and received generic gifts)… they were a lot more excited… I do think it does provide a bigger impact if you are able to facilitate those more specific requests.”

Hague and her crew intend to aim for personalized gifts again next year, but they are starting the planning process “a lot earlier in the year” to hopefully avoid some of those last-minute issues.

Another new part of the program this year was the inclusion of many schools and local daycare groups to make cards and artwork to include with the donated gifts: “I haven’t counted them, but there’s hundreds and hundreds of cards… some of them are gorgeous. We have a lot of artists locally.”

She described the creativity she saw in that artwork, including cotton-ball snowflakes, and little twigs glued into fireplace scenes: “It was really impressive.”

It total, between 450-460 gifts were donated for 2021, which were distributed to a variety of locations including Haldimand Community Paramedics, Community Living Haldimand, Community Living Six Nations, Home & Community Care Six Nations Iroquois Lodge, Six Nations Community Paramedics, Anson Place Retirement, Leisure Living, Parkview Meadows, Maple Grove Place, Aspen Apartments, Edgewater Gardens, and RVilla.

Gifts were delivered by Sarah and a team of volunteers who rolled up to their destinations last weekend and throughout this week in decorated vehicles and decked out in festive attire.

“When we designed the parades, we designed them to be COVID friendly. Everybody was driving their own vehicle that they decorated however they wanted… we would play Christmas music from our cars and then bring the gifts to the doors of a facility and drop them off there for the staff to bring inside,” explained Hague.

Hague continues to be amazed by the outpouring of community support her idea has generated these past two years: “All of the facilities that we partnered with this year, they were so grateful. The staff that took in the presents were so happy… they were truly grateful from the bottom of their hearts, and so am I… the fact that people trust us to do this on their behalf… it’s really special.”