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Thousands of southern Alberta seniors will have a Merry Christmas thanks to Seniors Secret Service


The southeast warehouse looks like Santa's workshop with boxes piled high filled with gifts. Each one has a name and destination marked on it and some are decorated by Seniors Secret Service volunteers who filled them.

"We asked for specific items that people will find useful and then we also ask the care providers to tell us a little bit about the senior if they can," said Andrea Brumwell, Seniors Secret Service executive director. "Maybe what their previous occupation was, maybe a hobby that they have, something that they really enjoy and I think that helps our Secret Santas to build a connection with this person that they're never going to meet but they have to try and shop for it for Christmas."

Close to 6,500 seniors are signed up for this year's program who live in Calgary but also rural southern Alberta from as far south as Claresholm, up to Innisfail and then Canmore in the west and Strathmore to the east of the city.

Brumwell says in most cases seniors are asking for everyday necessities.

"One of the things that we are most in need of right now is gift cards for groceries," she said. "I think that a lot of seniors are having difficulty paying for food, everything's so expensive, they're living on a very tight pension budget and there just isn't a lot of money left at the end of the month, so if we're able to help with that, then that's a fantastic way we can support them."

In mid-November, trees are put up at London Drugs stores decorated with names of seniors and customers can pick a person to help out for the holidays. Dani Robertson is a store manager who says it helps staff get in the mood for the holiday season.

"I love it when the families come in, the moms come in, or the dads with their little ones," she said. "Each child gets to choose a tag that they like and they do some shopping together, sometimes they ask us to get involved, which is so much fun."

Robertson says most times the lists attached to the names include basic household items.

"Most of the comments we get are they can't believe some of the just personal necessities that are on these wish lists, that they're very basic, right?" said Robertson. "Like soap or we had one lady right in that wanted some nail polish to do her nails up on the weekends when her family comes to visit."

Marina Franco has been a volunteer for close to 20 years. It's a Christmas tradition and she looks for a senior that shares her Italian heritage.

"Oh, it's a it's such a joy, I just love pulling (the gift boxes) together," she said. "I mean, I'll drive all over town to get just the right thing because I want to get it for them."

She's dropping off two boxes at the warehouse and says she always sets a budget for her shopping list, but doesn't always stick to it.

"I'll admit it's a fairly high limit and I'm probably like most Secret Santas, we have a limit and rarely stay within it," said Franco. "You can either pick from the list or feel free to buy whatever you'd like for the senior, the intent is to ensure that they're remembered."

Brumwell says the charity relies on public donations to operate and has helped thousands of seniors have a merry Christmas since it started in 1985.

"We're not a funded agency, we don't receive government funding, we don't receive United Way," she said. "We depend on the generosity of the community and that's how we function."

Brumwell says there are always some seniors who get missed by the Seniors Secret Service list so her team of volunteers puts together gift boxes from items donated by London Drugs and other Calgarians. But she says cash donations are also welcome so they can purchase grocery gift cards for them.

"It's an interesting thing, because you know, a lot of people do this because it makes them feel good and they want to give back," she said. "And on the other end, people are getting things that they really need and they feel like people care about them."

Learn how to donate here: Top Stories


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