Holiday Time: A True Labour of Love for the “elves” at Saint Margaret’s

Wendy Foster, Recreation Therapist at Saint Margaret’s, prepares all year so that residents will have presents for the holidays
Wendy Foster, Recreation Therapist at Saint Margaret’s, prepares all year so that residents will have presents for the holidays

Fundraising takes place throughout the year to ensure each of the 96 residents has some holiday cheer

Last spring, when few of us were thinking about the winter season, Recreation Therapist Wendy Foster was hard at work planting the seeds of holiday cheer at Saint Margaret’s Residential Centre. Now, with the holidays upon us, each and every of the 96 residents will see the results.

Ms. Foster makes a conscious effort to keep the holiday spirit alive at Saint Margaret’s, so she and her army of “elves” work for months to ensure everyone gets a personal holiday gift. The undertaking lasts throughout the year – and involves everything from bake sales and shopping trips to gift-wrapping sessions that go on for days.

“It takes an army,” Ms. Foster says. “If one of the spokes broke, I’d have a hard time to keep it going.”

Volunteer “elves” join the effort to ensure Saint Margaret residents all get personalized gifts
Volunteer “elves” join the effort to ensure Saint Margaret residents all get personalized gifts

The effort begins in May with the first of two annual bazaars and bake sales (the other is in November). Staff and volunteers join forces to donate and purchase household products and baked goods, raising nearly $4,000 annually. Proceeds go toward gift-buying and the residents’ holiday party, which takes place on December 21 this year.

“The lion’s share of that contribution comes from our own staff,” Ms. Foster says proudly. “They work hard for their money and then give it back.”

Then, beginning in October, Ms. Foster and her team of “elves” visit each resident to draw up individual wish lists. “We try to determine what they would like – not just what they may need,” Ms. Foster says. Family and companions are consulted as well, and if no specific gifts are requested, orderlies (known as PABs, or Préposés aux bénéficiaires) suggest what the residents need as far as items such as clothing.

The wish list items range from CDs to jewelry, perfume to electric blankets and shavers. “We spend between 25 and 30 dollars for each resident gift,” she says.

Once the resident’s wish list is compiled, the shopping begins. “We spent six hours buying most of the gifts at Walmart and Giant Tiger,” Ms. Foster says. “We were power shopping; other people saw all our carts and thought we worked at the store!”

Wrapping and labeling each of the 96 gifts takes several days and is a special process in and of itself.

“The volunteers who come in to wrap the gifts are people who’ve had family members at Saint Margaret in the past,” she explains. “Some of them haven’t had family here for many years, yet they take this time to give back, see each other, and then they go out for a meal together when the wrapping is done.”

The residents all receive their gifts at the holiday party. For those not well enough to join the group, Santa Claus delivers gifts to residents in their rooms.

It’s the day Ms. Foster looks forward to most. “There’s so much gratitude,” she says. “Their reactions are amazing. Even if they don’t know what’s happening, Santa is such a recognizable figure that they just light up.”

In addition, members of the Saint Margaret Recreation team go in on Christmas Eve to celebrate with residents.

“I tell all my colleagues we’re not taking time off between Christmas and New Year’s,” Ms. Foster says. “I get to go home after – the residents don’t. Christmas is a very important time of year.”

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