Three years ago, Chandra Moon called a Nelson seniors home and asked the staff to pick four residents who could use some holiday cheer.
Moon, a single mother, wanted to teach her kids Jaeden and Mackenzie a lesson in giving. So, on her own dime, Moon bought presents for some seniors who were isolated during Christmas.
“There’s so many of them who are just on their own,” she says. “They don’t have family around here and they don’t have that connection.”
Moon knows from experience how difficult living alone can be for the elderly.
Her grandfather lives with dementia at Mountain Lake Seniors Community in Nelson. Moon says he’s oblivious to the COVID-19 pandemic, and doesn’t understand why he’s stuck inside. The facility’s staff, she says, are limited by what they can do for residents.
“They can’t take them on outings down to the mall like they used to and he can’t visit with his great grandkids and we can’t take him to Dairy Queen for an ice cream. They’re stuck.”
Moon’s act of generosity became an annual tradition until last December when she wondered if she couldn’t be doing more.
A Facebook page called Adopt A Senior Nelson was started, and Moon was soon overwhelmed by the response. Her initiative expanded beyond Mountain Lake, and ended up including 35 low-income people after a call for help from Kootenay Seniors.
“It blew up,” she says. “I think we helped almost 77 seniors. It was amazing. I ran out of people to help. I kept having people saying, ‘I’m ready to adopt, who can I do it for?’ I had no one left.”
Those seniors didn’t want shiny gifts. The things they needed were toques, socks, hats and grocery cards.
“When the manager of Kootenay Seniors was delivering, she said that the one thing that she kept getting told was I can’t believe somebody thought of me. We’re in this community and there’s so many seniors out there who don’t realize that we care, or that they don’t think they have anybody.”
A November report by the B.C. Office of the Seniors Advocate found the majority of visits to seniors at long-term care and assisted living homes had dropped to once per week or less, and for 30 minutes or less each time. Fifty-five per cent of families had reported visits for an hour or more several times per week prior to the pandemic.
Kootenay Seniors program manager Lora Whitney thinks the pandemic has only intensified feelings of isolation among seniors.
The Nelson CARES-run project was forced to abandon in-person services last year for check-in calls along with food and prescription deliveries, and the response to those check-ins was often characterized by despair.
“We were hearing things like, you’re the only person I’ve talked to this week, I’m so lonely, I don’t know what to do with myself, this is the first holidays I won’t be with my family,” says Whitney.
Whitney had also run a holiday gift initiative for seniors before, but it wasn’t as successful until she was contacted by Moon. Whitney also credited Megan DeVries, another Nelson resident who helped connect gift-givers with seniors.
DeVries said she first put a call-out for donations on her business’s Instagram page @vintage.pour, and was stunned when she ended up receiving 50-to-60 gifts, handmade cards and over $1,700 in grocery gift cards.
”It was just like a full-time job because I had so many people message wanting to help out,” says DeVries. “It was pretty amazing.”
Over two days, Whitney and her husband drove their packed SUV around the community delivering gifts to unsuspecting seniors.
“They were first shocked that they had been remembered, and they were so touched and grateful,” says Whitney. “And there are quite a few who said, ‘Oh, I don’t need anything. Give it to someone who really needs it.’”
The success of the initiative now has Moon considering how to expand it.
Right now she’s looking for donations of cards for Valentine’s Day, the next holiday on her list. Those cards, she says, don’t have to be store bought to be included.
“We had a family out in Winlaw, they got together with a couple of their friends [and] made 35 handmade cards,” says Moon. “They were amazing.”
Moon is also hoping for more volunteers to help her organize the gift giving throughout the year. Birthdays, holidays, whatever merits a reminder that seniors haven’t been forgotten during a year when they are often on their own.
“It’s helping and it’s carrying that forward and sharing the love with other people,” says Moon.
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Moon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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