Send A Smile To A Senior Brings Joy to the Young at Heart During the Holidays

Victoria Hospital Foundation and Victoria Lifeline partnered with local non-profits to deliver holiday gift bags to seniors in our community and at Victoria Hospital.

Whether you are six or sixty, we all love receiving gifts during the holidays. But for many older adults in our community who are without family or friends nearby, or are unable to see their loved ones due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the reality of being alone during the holidays is palpable.


To show older adults that they are thought of and valued, especially over the holidays, we partnered with local non-profits and schools to bring smiles and holiday gift bags to approximately 400 older adults at care homes in our community and 90 patients at Victoria Hospital upon discharge.


“Seniors get very lonely, especially at holidays. I find Christmas the worst. My husband had cancer 12 years ago and passed away in January of that year. Since then, I have no Christmas traditions left. I have very little family in Winnipeg, so I find Christmas very difficult. Any programs or activities during this time help me to cope,” reflects Zoe, a senior living at Villa Cabrini.


Unfortunately, Zoe’s story is not unique. Many of the seniors who received a care package, told us similar stories, like Helen from Bethel Place. “I am so thankful to be in a place where I can communicate with people. [My] children live outside the province, so for someone lonely like me, it means a lot. It's lovely to see people looking after each other. I’m looking forward to reading the card from [the] students.”


Senior woman at door with gift bag


Combating isolation is the cornerstone of the Send A Smile To A Senior program, designed in partnership with our community service Victoria Lifeline. Implemented in 2020, it helps older adults in our community overcome social isolation by maintaining social contacts and improving their mental health.


According to the Government of Canada article Social Isolation of Seniors, an estimated 30 per cent of Canada’s growing senior population are at risk of becoming socially isolated, which can result in serious negative health effects and reduced quality of life.


Since seniors are more likely to live alone or in an institution, COVID-19 public health measures limiting social interactions also put seniors at greater risk of social isolation according to a recent Statistics Canada article.


Many of the seniors affirmed that their daily lives had been impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions. Olga from Bethel Place said, “Our daily life has been quite lonely, very much home alone, occasionally venturing out, very cautiously, to do some errands. Our church life, our volunteering, family gatherings—all gone.”


Thanks to the generosity of supporters, Victoria Hospital Foundation partnered with the community to fill gift bags with hand-made cards from students at three local schools: General Byng, Ralph Maybank, Oakenwald; pancake mix and split pea soup mix from Local Investment Toward Employment (LITE), which was packaged by participants from Wolseley Family Place and Self-Starting Creative Opportunities for People in Employment (SSCOPE); toiletries; and a Senior Services Resource Guide by Victoria Lifeline. 


And what were the most popular items in the bag? For Olga, it didn't matter what was in the bag, just that someone remembered she is still here and took the time to show it. But, one item that proved to be very popular among the recipients, was Victoria Lifeline’s Senior Services Resource Guide. It contains valuable information on programs and services for seniors’ health, caregiving, housing, driving and staying safe.


  Gift bag volunteers and products


It's no surprise that the seniors loved receiving the gift bags. They felt an improved sense of well-being and connection to the outside community. Zoe told us, “It was nice knowing strangers took the time to do something nice for me.”


Colleen Bergen, Program Coordinator at Bethel Place, said, “Many of the residents are isolated. Knowing that someone cares enough to put something together for them makes a difference—a little goes a long way.”


Woman with trolly filled with gift bags


Another initiative of the Send A Smile To A Senior program is Calls For Comfort, which pairs seniors and students for weekly 30-minute phone or video calls. The idea was that of local Winnipeg student, Fiona Awan, who came to us to help make her idea a reality. Awan recalls, “I heard stories of seniors who maybe didn’t have family or friends to visit them, so they were isolated in care homes or shut in at home. And then when the pandemic struck, I thought that if I was feeling isolated and miserable from all the restrictions then seniors would be too, especially since their families couldn’t visit them anymore; basically, cutting-off their outlet for socializing.”


Now in its second year, Calls For Comfort launched its latest session on February 14th, 2022, which runs for six weeks. Seniors are matched with students from Fort Richmond Collegiate for weekly 30-minute calls where they can get to know each other, chat about current events, and hear stories that cross generations. It’s a relaxed, friendly, and inclusive space and each call is structured around a topic to help the conversation flow.


If you’d like to find out more, contact Patti Berube, Fort Garry Seniors Resource Coordinator, at 204-792-1913.

Would you like to make a difference and help Victoria Hospital Foundation create healthier futures for everyone in our community and at Victoria Hospital? Consider making a donation.