How one Quebec seniors' home ended up getting 10,000 Christmas cards from around the world

Nurse Sylvie Chevrier invited strangers on Facebook to send Christmas cards to the retirement home where she worked. The response was overwhelming.

Château Symmes Retirement Residence in Gatineau was overwhelmed by the response

Staff at Château Symmes were overwhelmed by the huge outpouring of letters and cards coming from around the world following a callout to boost morale at the retirement home. (Château Symmes Residence/Facebook)

On Friday Dec. 4, Sylvie Chevrier posted a few photos of residents at the Gatineau, Que. seniors' home where she works on Facebook, inviting strangers to send holiday cards to lift their spirits.

Four days later, her post had been shared 51,000 times.

By Saturday Dec. 12, strangers had answered the call en masse, sending in more than 10,000 cards and gifts to the Château Symmes Retirement Residence where Chevrier works as a nurse.

"It's incredible," said Chevrier, who said that cards have been coming not just from across the province, but from France, Belgium, Morocco and other far-flung places.

Since Dec. 4, the residence has received 10,000 cards and counting. (Château Symmes Residence/Facebook)

Chevrier said she suspects people were drawn to her idea because it represents a tangible way they can help out the population that has been most affected by the pandemic.

"We see them in the news about homes having outbreaks, but there's nothing we can do as a regular person because we can't go in the homes," she told CBC's Breakaway.

"One of the reasons it went viral is because now people have an opportunity. They say 'this is something I can do.'"

Chevrier started the idea after the province announced it was reversing its decision to allow gatherings over Christmas.

The staff at Château Symmes have been working hard to sort and organize all the incoming mail. (Château Symmes Residence/Facebook)

She said this year has been particularly lonely for seniors and that spending the holidays without seeing family in person was going to make for a gloomy festive season.

A viral campaign from a Facebook novice

Chevrier took photos of a handful of people living at Château Symmes and encouraged people who saw the post to write to them.

She also encouraged people to write to the other residents who aren't featured in the photo campaign by keeping their cards general.

Beyond letters and cards, she said people have been sending in CDs, handmade jewlery, soaps and chocolates.

Sylvie Chevrier posted a series of photos like these on Facebook, encouraging people to write in. She never expected the response would be so large. (Château Symmes Residence/Facebook)

Chevrier said the photos, which accompanied the original post, were another factor in giving it so much traction.

"They are so adorable. Some people have told me 'I cry when I see their pictures.' They are so endearing."

Once the messages started rolling in, Chevrier — who herself only has 100 friends on Facebook — had to recruit her daughters to help answer and manage the responses.

All the cards and gifts will be disinfected before being distributed to the 168 residents at Château Symmes. 

Listen to Sylvie Chevrier react to the overwhelming response:


Marilla Steuter-Martin has been a journalist with CBC Montreal since 2015.

With files from CBC's Breakaway


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