More than 500 seniors in Maple Ridge received gift packages this year courtesy of the new Operation Santa for Seniors charity.
The initiative was conceived in 2019 when Angela and Marty Morel decided that instead of a family gift exchange, they wanted to help make Christmas brighter for seniors in Angela’s father’s apartment building on 224th Street. They created 80 gift packs last year – one for each resident of the building. There were ornaments, candy canes, gloves, toques and other items.
“We decided to do that, instead of expensive gifts for each other,” said Angela. “We had gifts for the entire building.
“Some of them, that’s the only gift they got.”
Sadly, Angela’s father passed away during the summer. Jean-Claude Charron never knew that it was his family who had been the secret Santa for his buildings.
The family still wanted to help the seniors in his building, in his memory.
“We’re doing it in his honour now,” said his daughter.
They shared the idea with family and friends in social media. Those contacts also told their friends, and the compounding response in donations was incredible.
“A few of my friends shared it, and it just went crazy,” said Angela.
For 48 hours, Angela spent her every free moment texting with someone who had a donation, she remembered. At that point, she knew this was bigger than her late father’s apartment tower. In the year of COVID-19, she saw a more generous spirit of giving.
“This year, people wanted to be a part of something, and they wanted to help.”
That was the sudden start of Operation Santa for Seniors. When the Morels knew they would have a lot more than 80 gift packs this year, Angela reached out to Community Services to ask if they knew of any seniors who might want a special gift this Christmas. Together, the delivered 545 packages.
They had gifts of hand-knitted scarves, candles, hot chocolate, masks, soaps, candy and all kinds of donations they put in their gift packs.
They each had to be assembled by hand, and the bulk of the work was done by family – those inside the Morels’ bubble. Her mother Autumn Charron, who is in her 70s, put together about 400 of the packages.
Community Services told them about five seniors who were “in a little more need,” and they got special, larger packages.
When the packages were done, there were another 130 stocking stuffer assortments that were delivered to Chartwell Willow’s seniors. An abundance of socks and chocolates was left over, and delivered to the Salvation Army for its shelter residents.
“I am a senior who received a gift bag full of items from Santa. Whoever Santa is, I just want to say that I am extremely appreciative of the time and effort given to the selection of gifts,” wrote Noah Thaddeus in social media. “Thank you Santa.”
And the participants were also moved.
“This is simply awe inspiring. Participating in this is really the only time I’ve really felt the Christmas spirit and I’m so thankful to you for that,” wrote Sarah Eastman on the Operation Santa for Seniors Facebook page. “You blessed us by allowing us to help you bless others. This made this very difficult Christmas so much better.”
Angela said this is likely to become an annual event.
“People are already committing (donations) for next year,” she said. “We look forward to being able to support more seniors in Christmas 2021. We would love to hit 1,000.”