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Seniors Secret Service on target to help 6,300 of southern Alberta's elderly have a merry Christmas

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Volunteers work like Santa's helpers, sorting boxes destined for seniors this holiday season, and just like the elves in his workshop, those volunteers have a mountain of work that has to be completed on a tight timeline.

Andrea Brumwell, executive director at Seniors Secret Service, says this year, 6,300 seniors have been referred to the program by their caregivers, who feel they don't have any close, supporting family members or who are experiencing poverty.

"We work with almost all the care homes in the city," she said.

"We also do rural, so we go as far south as Claresholm, north we go to Didsbury, and then Cochrane and Strathmore on the east and west.

"We work with a lot of outreach agencies, the Kerby Centre, Meals on Wheels, programs through the city of Calgary. We also work with a lot of Alberta Health Services programs who provide support in the community."

The program works by connecting people who've volunteered to be secret Santas, shopping for gifts the seniors have requested along with a few other items.

"Hopefully, it's a little mix of need and fun all rolled into one box," said Brumwell.

"We try and make sure that the independent living seniors have a grocery gift card because that, especially this year, seems to be a really big issue. People are trying to choose between buying groceries and buying medicine and, maybe, buying cat food."

The charity has been operating in Calgary for more than 30 years and Brumwell says it's always a challenge to find warehouse space – a key component for the operation.

She began looking for free space to sort gifts in the fall.

Near the beginning of November, she reached out to Colliers International, which was able to connect her with Skyline Industrial REIT, which has kindly donated an empty warehouse.

This is Rich and Lisa Kiehl's first year volunteering with the organization.

They have recently retired and are now able to donate their time, but they're no strangers to Seniors Secret Service.

For years, the couple adopted a senior at Christmas.

Now, Rich is moving pallets piled high with boxes.

"Each box has to be checked to make sure that the names are right and the lists are on," he said.

"Then we move it over into the corner and then into the individual organization rows that are expecting boxes sometime next month."

Some families choose to decorate the outside of their boxes to bring smiles to the faces of the seniors they're helping and that's what Lisa is enjoying the most while sorting.

"Oh, we have come across so many wonderful boxes. There's people that are so talented, art wise," she said.

"But to see the boxes that the children have decorated, those have given me the most joy over the last few days."

The organization has partnered with London Drugs, which helps top up gift boxes with useful items.

Benjamin Pullien, the company's Calgary zone manager, says staff enjoy helping the project be a success every year.

"It's a group that's forgotten about," he said.

"A lot of people focus on different areas, but think about seniors that maybe don't have a family, don't have anybody who's going to give them something special for the holidays – it's a group that really has a need in our community."

Brumwell says donations of grocery gift cards and toiletries are always welcome because there are always boxes that need to be put together for seniors who were left off of the lists.

"So last year, we made over 300 gifts boxes with items that were donated by the community and items that were donated to London Drugs," she said.

"So it's super important to us and it really makes trying to put things together at the very last possible minute a little bit easier."

The gifts will start to be deliver the first week of December, with the last boxes moved out of the warehouse and into the hands of seniors by Dec. 21.

Learn more about the charity at seniorssecretservice.com.

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