The year 2020 presented some very difficult challenges for staff, community members, and community organizations alike. Restrictions on gathering increased social isolation, risk of illness increased stress, workplace changes influenced work-life balance for families, and economic impacts were felt by all. So, this holiday season, staff at Seniors Services Society of BC were gifted $50 to pay forward to an individual or agency who they felt could use the support. Staff were told to use the $50 in whatever way they saw fit to create a positive impact. Our incredible staff chose to use the donation in a variety of meaningful and creative ways, spreading good cheer over the holidays and strengthening bonds in their communities.

Four staff chose to donate to their local food bank. According to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank website, over 8,500 families receive direct food support monthly. For seniors, food security can be a significant challenge, and 18% of Greater Vancouver Food Bank clients are seniors. Supporting the Food Bank aligns closely with the support services Senior Services Society provides, including meal delivery and grocery shopping. Notably, one staff member had their contribution matched by a corporate sponsor for the Richmond Food Bank, so their contribution amounted to $100.

In addition to a food bank donation, our Support Services Coordinator, Karl, purchased non-perishable goods for a family who were living on the street in their neighbourhood. As Karl described,

“I saw a family, a mother and son, holding a sign. I did not stop and read the message, but I saw the words ‘rent’ and ‘food’ on the sign that the mother was holding.… It must have been the Christmas spirit, the fact that I saw the mother and son and it reminded me of the times when my mother and I went to places together.… After seeing the family and their sign, I knew I had to help them.”

Similarly, another staff member chose to give $25 each to their children to give to a charity of their choice. They chose the local food bank. Through the kindness of the local grocery store manager, they were able to double their donation. As the staff member explained,

“[My kids] were adamant about purchasing the food themselves and researched exactly what was needed the most, such as canned vegetables, meats, rice, pasta, pasta sauce and other non-perishables.  After researching the costs of the items, they brought their lists to a local grocery store … explaining that the donation would be made to the food bank. The manager was incredible—he asked the kids to each shop for the items on their lists and that he would donate a second of same item!  Essentially, we were able to double our donation and the food bank was very grateful.”

Other staff chose to donate to organizations and charities supporting a variety of causes. One staff member chose to donate to Aunt Leah’s Place in New Westminster. Aunt Leah’s assists young mothers who have previously been in foster care and offer support through housing, teaching parenting skills, job skills training, and other initiatives. Another staff member split their donation, giving $25 to the Children of the Street Society, which focuses on the prevention of child and youth sex trafficking, and $25 to SOS Children’s Village, which provides care and support to children in the foster care system. One staff member, who volunteers to pick up and rescue dogs, donated to Just Four Paws Rescue Society to support cancer treatment for one a dog named Gordo. Finally, one staff member chose to match their donation to send $100 to the Wish Drop-In Centre, which supports sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and provides a 24-hour shelter for street-based workers, including transgender and non-binary people. Necessary items purchased included underwear, hand warmers and mittens, razors, toothbrushes, a fleece throw, a poncho, first aid kits, and an umbrella.

In response to the worldwide movement for racial equality, social justice, and anti-racism for people of colour, one outreach worker, Katrina, who is from the United States, chose to donate to The Conscious Kid. According to their website, The Conscious Kid is “an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth.” The organization has been active during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing rent relief to families in need—with a focus on Black families—donating over $1 million so far. As Katrina stated, “I am from the US, so supporting a cause that is working towards racial justice is dear to my heart.”

Other staff chose to direct the donation money to individuals they knew personally or came to know through this festive project. Our CEO, Alison, wanted her donation to be more personal, so she identified two seniors with ties to the organization who needed additional help during the holidays and took them grocery shopping. She purchased $25 worth of groceries for each senior and took the opportunity to get to know them personally and to understand their needs and stories.

Similarly, another staff member, Denise, chose to help a family friend who is 90 years old and lives alone. Every Christmas, this senior travels to the interior to spend Christmas with her sister and nephew. However, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, she was spending Christmas alone at home. So, Denise put together a package of treats that included a $50 gift card for groceries, biscuits, slippers, and crossword puzzle scratch tickets. She also ordered her friend a meal and delivered it with the gift package. And, while dropping off the package, Denise was able to help her friend apply for the BC COVID-19 Relief Benefit of $500.

Our Community Connector, Leanore, donated $25 to Seniors Services Society’s own Santa for Seniors program and chose to use the rest to purchase food gift cards for a couple of individuals experiencing homelessness in the New Westminster area, based on their choice. As Leanore said,

“I know that there are a lot of places these folks can go to get a meal, coffee, or sandwiches. But I think most of us like to have the ability to choose what we want to eat and when we want to eat it and I thought it would be nice to give these folks that same opportunity.”

Another staff member put the donation into an unsigned Christmas card with a small, positive holiday note. She carried the card with her over the holiday break with the hope of delivering it to a person in need that she met naturally in the course of her days. The staff member noted,

“My huge learning from the experience has been that there are so many people who all seem so deserving of an uplifting card, sentiment, and cash out there that it turned out to be a difficult task to pick just one person as a recipient of the card.”

In the end, the staff member gifted the card to a local business owner who was experiencing struggles due to staff layoffs as a result of COVID-19. He was working 7 days a week on his own to keep his business running. The staff member summarized, “I only wish I had many more cards to give out to so many more people I come across in my travels, as I believe everyone can use an uplifting gift from out of the blue every so often!”

Finally, one staff member, Hina, was able to use her donation to make a significant impact on the life of a family in her community. Earlier in the year, Hina’s father met a single mother with four small children who spoke very little English at a bus stop. The woman was crying, and it was raining. Hina’s family invited the mother and her children to their house, fed them, and provided some warm clothing. Though there was a language barrier, they were able to connect them to their church and local Neighbourhood House for help with school supplies for the kids, food, groceries, and other essentials. So, this holiday season, Hina and her family decided to match Seniors Services Society’s donation and gave the woman $450 to shop at Winners for items for herself. Hina accompanied the woman while she shopped for things she both wanted and needed, including winter shoes, clothes, blankets, and household items. Hina explained it was, “a way to say, thank you for being a great woman, a great mother, and not giving up for the sake of her 4 children.”

All in all, the donation project was an immense success. The creativity and generosity of staff resulted in a diverse array of meaningful donations, gifts, and memories. Staff donations were used to support both charitable organizations and individuals and families in need. Moreover, as a result of this initiative, a number of staff have signed up for monthly donations to continue to support their chosen charities. At the end of a difficult year, delivering a gift of $50 (or more!) contributed to the wellness and happiness of staff and members of our community. We cannot wait to see what outstanding acts of generosity our staff deliver next year!

By Joe Humphries