How Christmas sorrow helped bring cheer to 500 seniors in Nova Scotia

Santas for Seniors wants to ensure no one is left out this Christmas.

Robyn Carruthers started Santas for Seniors, matching gift-giving strangers to elderly people in need

Robyn Carruthers brought Christmas to one senior at first, but Santas for Seniors kept 'growing and growing'. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

Christmas may be a month away, but one group of Nova Scotians has been getting into the holiday spirit early.

Santas for Seniors wants to ensure no one is left out this Christmas. Robyn Carruthers started the group a few years ago after her grandmother died just before the holiday.

Carruthers turned her grief into a gift — for a complete stranger.

"I reached out to a local nursing home to see if they had someone who was maybe alone during the holidays, and they did," the Lower Sackville woman said this weekend.

Friends heard what she was up to and offered to help. "So eventually we had five seniors at that home and they didn't have any more for us to help."

'It just kept growing'

She found more seniors via the Victorian Order of Nurses, social workers, politicians and housing organizations. "It just kept growing and growing. We started a Facebook page and now we have 324 Santas and our goal this year is to help 225 seniors."

This handwritten message was part of a gift package for one senior last Christmas. (Submitted by Santas for Seniors)

Carruthers posts the senior's first name and their wishlist to the group. The quickest Santa adopts them and buys the gifts. "It could be as simple as pyjamas, socks. Sometimes it's a pot to cook soup in."

Others need new teeth, a walker, or Christmas presents for their grandchildren. Most Santas never meet their senior, and Carruthers only knows a fraction of the people giving the gifts. Often whole families adopt a senior and the children make cheerful cards.

"This year we had a gentleman that needed some teeth extracted. It just gets you in the heart. It's so small what they need, but it means everything to them," she said.

The only criteria for the seniors is they must be over 55 and spending Christmas alone. "They could have a roof over their head and food on their table, but at Christmas time, everyone wants to be remembered," she said.

More than 500 seniors helped

Carruthers has two full-time jobs and a family of her own, but she doesn't let that stop her from organizing Santa for Seniors. She collects all the gifts and distributes them to the seniors with the help of VON and other groups. "It's the thing I am most proud of and it's the thing that gives me the most joy."

Kristi During and her family adopted a senior last year and again this year. Instead of buying each other presents, they shop together for the senior. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

Kristi During's family have played Santa for two years. Her husband and her parents decided instead of giving each other gifts, they'd shop for a senior. Last year, she and her mother helped a senior undergoing chemotherapy.

The Durings bought her chemo socks, a blanket, books, puzzles, candies, ornaments and $100 in bus tickets so she could get to her appointments.

"We made a whole day of it. We shopped all day and went for lunch together. Not only were we doing something really nice for someone else, it was really nice for her and I to spend the day together," During said. "It definitely felt like Christmas."

Santas for Seniors have helped more than 500 elderly Nova Scotians since it started. 

Another carload of presents is prepared during last year's Santas for Seniors dispersal. (Submitted by Seniors for Santas)