Debbie Daoust started the Mission Community Services Society’s Secret Santa for Seniors’ program in 2017.
“I was working at Mission Community Services Society as the United Way Better at Home coordinator,” she writes in an email. “Seniors were expressing their concerns with regards to Christmas and why they were not included along with the kids at Christmas. There are a lot of seniors who live alone and do not have family around them at Christmas time.”
In the first year, she included seniors at Mission Memorial Hospital and in apartment complexes in the program.
“Each person received a gift and a food hamper. When delivering the gifts and food the first year, there were tears, laughter and a whole lot of hugs from all of the seniors, especially for the ones having to spend time in the hospital at Christmas.”
On behalf of the program, Daoust started collecting donations and putting them in a spare office.
“We packaged up the gifts in the boardroom on the weekends. After a couple of years, I ran out of space so we started having the donations delivered to the Christmas bureau location,” she writes.
The Mission Community Services Society has been running the program out of that location ever since.
“The first year I think was just over 150 gifts,” she writes.
The program expanded to include the homeless and those with a very low income, along with seniors. Over time the program grew to over 350 gifts handed out.
But this year, donations to the program have been low, Tracy McCarthy says.
“We just haven’t had as many donations this year as we normally do for the seniors,” said the Mission Community Services Society Housing & Outreach manager. “It’s specific things, like slippers, nightgowns, housecoats, hygiene products. And if we know that they like knitting or cross-stitching, depending on whether we get those supplies, we’ll include those as well.”
Each year, groups like the Mission Community Services Society receive donations from readers of The Province by way of the Empty Stocking Fund. Money collected through the ESF goes to 26 Christmas bureaus and community services in the Lower Mainland. To donate, please complete and send in the attached form.
The Mission Community Services Society also provides Christmas hampers to families in need.
“We’re serving over 400 hampers to single households and families this year,” McCarthy said.
The hampers include fixings for a turkey dinner and a grocery gift card.
The Mission Community Services Society also hands out toys received through various drives. A staff of about 39 volunteers hand-out the hampers and toys to people who register. For the Secret Santa for Seniors’ program, the gifts are delivered.
“A lot of people automatically think that Christmas is for the little ones, which it is,” McCarthy said. “But we also have seniors who are alone and don’t have family left, and they deserve something as well.”
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