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Using the gift of giving to help seniors feel less lonely this Christmas

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. London Drugs
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When it comes to the holidays, there are many ways to give to those in need. Maybe you buy some extra bags of pasta and jars of peanut butter to donate to a local foodbank, or perhaps you pick up a new toy set every year to give to a children’s charity.

While these are worthy ways to give, there’s another idea that’s growing in popularity to offset loneliness those living in senior citizens or assisted care homes can experience. After all, loneliness can be a significant issue for seniors.

A 2018 study from Age UK found loneliness is an increasing health concern for the elder population.

“Seniors go through lots of changes as they age — retirement, loss of family or spouse, chronic illness and more and in the case of our residents, leaving their family homes. And those feelings are highlighted by the holidays because it’s a time for family and friends,” said Carrie Willekes, manager of Providence Health Care at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital in Vancouver.

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This is where the Stocking Stuffers for Seniors program comes in, an iniative via London Drugs that’s going a long way to make seniors in the community feel a little less lonely over the holidays. The program pairs a London Drugs location with a local, low-income senior care facility in their community. Each store works with their facility to create personalized wish lists for all residents and then customers can come into the store to buy a gift for an isolated senior at Christmastime.

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How to participate

Stocking Stuffers for Seniors began in 2015 with one London Drugs store helping some 500 seniors. The program quickly caught on in popularity with consumers and at last count, now delivers gifts to some 10,000 seniors in Alberta and British Columbia.

“The idea behind this program was thinking about people who were a little less fortunate or were lonely,” said Dave Woogman, a store manager with the London Drugs on Cambie and West Broadway in Vancouver.

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So how does it work exactly? Participating London Drugs stores first connect with local seniors’ homes and organize gift tags for participating residents.

“Each senior gets a tag and on it was their first name only and some suggested gift ideas that would brighten up their Christmas,” said Woogman.

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The tags are then collected and sent back to the participating store where they hang on an in-store Christmas tree— Woogman notes that at his store, a spreadsheet is used to track who has taken tags and who’s returned them with gifts.

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“Then customers could come in and pick a tag which noted something they could buy. We preferred new unwrapped gifts but some people did homemade stuff like a blanket or something,” said Woogman. (However homemade food gifts aren’t preferred.) “Then the tag and gift are returned to the store where they are wrapped and sent collectively to the senior’s home for distribution.”

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Program growing in popularity

Woogman sees first-hand how the program has taken off in his store.

“Each year it’s getting stronger and stronger,” he said. “Many of the offices around us have done away with their Secret Santa and instead they’re participating in this program. They come in and grab 15 to 20 tags for an office.”

Then there’s the effect on customers. It’s not uncommon for Woogman to see a customer stand in front of the tree for 15 to 20 minutes just reading through all the tags.

“When they bring the gifts back with the tag, some people even throw a card in there saying things like, we hope this lightens your holiday season or you are important,” he continued. “People really put a lot into this and it almost makes you want to cry.”

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It also further inspires other similar holiday-related initiatives. “As a store, you almost develop a friendship with some of these homes,” he said.

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“They also have a photo session with Santa a week before Christmas and we send over one of our beauty advisors with make up. Because of that connection, we try and work with them as much as they can.”

Feel-good reactions

Willekes gets to see the other side of the program when the more than 600 residents in the home she manages open up slippers, picture frames, tins of cookies and chocolates, luxury toiletries, blankets, socks and more.

“There’s just joy from the seniors,” she said. “Someone thought of them. It’s a surprise. It’s something they wanted and sometimes the residents didn’t remember filling out the tag and just the thought that a stranger bought them a gift meant so much.”

She adds in her facility, volunteers from the store come and hand out the gifts — the store manager plays Santa — and then stayed afterwards to listen to music and drink tea and coffee.

There are also the quieter signs of appreciation she sees. “I had people who had gifts in the bags for probably a month. The gift would sit on their chair or in their room and they’d look at it and then put it back,” she said. “They just loved looking at the gift for awhile.”

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Both Woogman and Willekes know that while the Stocking Stuffers for Seniors program is about off-setting lonlieness during the holidays, it’s also about so much more. “It builds the sense of community. These are residents who lived and worked in the city in this community. They once gave a lot to the community,” said Willekes. “So for the community to give back this way is so much more meaningful than the gift itself.”

Want to find out more about the Stocking Stuffers for Seniors program or find a location near you? Click here to connect with a program in a London Drugs near you to help bring holiday cheer to a local senior in need.