December 14th 2020 This holiday season is going to look a lot different for everyone, but for older people, the isolation and separation from family may feel especially challenging. KCHC’s Steph Wheeler wanted to make sure that local seniors got some holiday cheer this year, and this heart-warming project was born.
Twice a month, Wheeler works with a team to distribute a total of 400 Seniors’ Food Boxes to local seniors, and as she and colleague Kathy Sturmey were talking about the holidays, they realized they were in a unique position to create some new connections.
Wheeler is also a lead for Operation Warm Feet, a program that gets boots to local children in need for $2/pair. Usually, these families come to the KCHC Weller site for the annual boot sale. This year, that event wasn’t possible due to COVID, and free boots were distributed to families through school referral. Wheeler knows the value of intergenerational connections and thought this project would create community by connecting local seniors, who are feeling the effects of the pandemic as we head into winter, to children who may be missing their grandparents.
“I started thinking about the people receiving our Seniors Food Boxes, who are ages 55 and up, and realized that they may not have a lot of local family or even community contacts,” says Wheeler. “I was connecting with local schools around the boot drive and thought maybe some of the children would like to create a special card for the SFB folks as an intergenerational program.”
She quickly had a lot of interest, from schools and also from a day program run out of Ongwanada. Ongwanada supports people with developmental disabilities, with a special focus on those with complex needs, and their families, so they can lead full lives, effectively supported in their communities.
The end result of this inspiring initiative is more than 800 holiday cards that will be included in December’s Seniors Food Box deliveries. The cards are filled with messages of hope, friendship, and holiday cheer. Sturmey adds, “We hope that this simple gesture of kindness from children to seniors will brighten up someone’s day at a time when so many need that simple feeling of connection.”
Jamie Niedbala, a teacher at participating school J.G. Simcoe, says that this project brought as much benefit to the children involved as it did to the seniors: “It was our pleasure to help with the project this year. We always try to expose our students to positive connections within their community. It's important that students realize they are not in this life journey alone but are truly part of a larger community – the classroom, the school, the neighbourhood, the world. Their individual decisions, creative choices, and altruistic efforts do make a difference in creating positive change.”
Wheeler adds that this is especially important this year: “There is an abyss of social contact for everyone this year, and many of our seniors have suffered huge losses in their lives as well as limiting their social contacts for safety. They need to know that they are important members of our community and that we care about each person on our list. We hope
that by our example of creating connections, we might inspire others to keep in mind the valuable knowledge our older folks have shared and the life experiences and contribution that have helped shape our community.”