'Be A Santa to a Senior' delivering gifts to people who experience holiday loneliness

Home Instead Senior Care is looking to give a dose of Christmas cheer to more than 750 people in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent.

Home Instead Senior Care asking people to donate gifts unwrapped

Every year, seniors post their wishlists on a paper Christmas ornament for the Be a Santa for a Senior event. (CBC News)

As many as 1.4 million Canadian seniors report feeling lonely, according to recent data from Statistics Canada.

Many of those living in nursing or extended care homes get regular visits from family, but in Windsor-Essex, there are hundreds who don't — meaning they may not receive even the smallest of gifts come the holidays.

But Home Instead Senior Care is doing what it can to look after those people through its annual "Be a Santa to a Senior" program. Ryan Jershy, owner of the Tecumseh branch, said this year's goal is to deliver gifts to 750 people.

"Sometimes, most of [the gifts] are basic things — gloves, mittens, blankets, brand-name Kleenex and things like that we take for granted," said Jershy, adding all of the gifts come in through donations.

The program starts when Home Instead Senior Care is given a list of 20 to 30 residents' names from nursing homes in "Essex County and a little of Kent County" who rarely or almost never get a visitor.

Jershy said that totals about 500 names, but the list doesn't stop there.

"Anybody can be sponsored, so we also get people from Life After 50, the Canadian Mental Health [Association], ... Assisted Living Southwestern Ontario."

The red purse

2018 marks Home Instead Senior Care's ninth year running "Be A Santa to A Senior." Jershy said one of his best memories from the first eight years involves an elderly person's "dilapidated" purse.

"She had it for many, many years and it was falling apart. So somebody took the time and bought her this beautiful purse," recalled Jershy.

"She opened up the wrapping paper, she looked at it and she goes, 'Oh my god. This is a beautiful, red purse ... But I don't need it. I have a red purse already.' She didn't know she needed it. She had dementia."

He said the woman "graciously" accepted the purse once it was explained to her that it was meant to replace her old one.

Home Instead Senior Care is asking people to donate gifts to their office unwrapped. Jershy said the gifts are wrapped by staff on the same day they are delivered to their recipients.

Hear more from Ryan Jershy on the CBC's Windsor Morning: