It was a very magical few days in December for hundreds of GEF Seniors Housing residents when Santa and his elves made their rounds to deliver presents as part of London Drugs’ Stocking Stuffers for Seniors 2019 Campaign.
What started out in 2015 with Operation Friendship Seniors Society and London Drugs partnering together with a goal to help 40 seniors in its first year has grown exponentially in five short years. Today, Stocking Stuffers for Seniors now helps more than 4,000 seniors in Northern Alberta and 17,000 seniors across western Canada have a brighter Christmas, and the campaign now involves all London Drugs stores. Altogether, 878 seniors in eight different GEF Seniors Housing communities received a gift this holiday season.
The approach is simple, but the impact is immeasurable. Generous strangers carefully choose a name tag from specially-marked tree displays at their London Drugs store of choice and, out of the goodness of their hearts, buy what’s written on the tag as their senior’s wish list – often adding in a few extra surprises. “I think the generosity of others in the community and the surprise of receiving a gift was really awesome,” said Montgomery Place Recreation Coordinator Christine Kemp.
On delivery day, everyone was buzzing with anticipation. “I was up early – I am so excited!” said one resident. Santa and his London Drugs elves arrived, and the faces of residents and staff lit up like Christmas trees. “It was like Christmas morning for these residents – they were glowing,” said one staff member.
It was an overwhelming sight to see the number of presents that showed up under the trees at our GEF communities. After the gifts were distributed, residents started opening their presents. As well as the chorus of oohs and ahhhs around the room, seniors said comments like “this is more than I expected”, “this is over and above anything I could have imagined”, “I got just what I wanted”, “I wish I could say thank you to all the kind people” and “I don’t usually get excited for Christmas anymore but this brought back feelings that I had as a kid.”
Some of our residents don’t have family so it was a surprise to them when they received a gift. “I wouldn’t have gotten any Christmas gifts this year, so thank you very much,” said one resident. At least one senior saved his presents to open on Christmas day, because he doesn’t have any family. These unexpected gifts, filled with love, showed the residents just how much they are cared for and each senior was grateful for what they had received.
“When you see someone’s face light up and the expression of someone who doesn’t normally get this, it’s a really special feeling and it makes my heart happy!” said another staff member.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to make this Christmas so memorable – not just for our seniors, but for all of the participating seniors who needed a little cheer this year! It will be a day they will never forget.
As we mark our 60th anniversary as GEF Seniors Housing, we also celebrate the 12th Annual Great Knitting Giveaway. Held on Friday, October 25 at the Santa Maria Goretti Centre, the event was a huge success and our biggest yet! When the event started in 2007, we had 35 residents and tenants participating. Today, there are just over 130 knitters contributing to this amazing event and over 8,000 items knitted, crocheted, donated and loved.
This event has grown exponentially thanks to the enormous generosity and kindness of Edmonton residents, who have banded together to donate more than 100 bags of yarn just this year. That amount translates into thousands of skeins of yarn for our tenants and residents to knit their beautiful creations. Without the generosity of all our GEF seniors, this event wouldn’t be possible. We cannot thank them enough for their countless hours of working on these amazing handmade items, each of them filled with so much love.
The charities we choose to receive the knitted items also play a huge part in this event, and some of them have been with us since the very beginning. This year, we chose eight charities: Crystal Kids Youth Centre; Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society; Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers; Operation Friendship Seniors Society; SNUG; Ronald McDonald House Charities Alberta; Terra Centre and The Mustard Seed. The items knitted for these charities will provide warmth and comfort to their clients during the cold winter months, and a hug whenever they feel a little sad or lonely. These items will remind them that they are cared for and loved, no matter their situation.
The knitted items and request for items are constantly changing, based on the needs of the community. In 2011, with an especially cold winter, there was an increased need for “comfort bags,” which include warm winter wear like socks, toques and mitts that were given to people experiencing homelessness. One year, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton asked for knitted nests which became homes for small animals. In 2016, the Alberta Wildfire Donation Centre needed many more donations for families displaced due to the Fort McMurray wildfire. GEF seniors also crocheted Izzy dolls for the military, so soldiers could have them in their pockets to hand out to the children they met in the war-torn countries where they were serving.
No matter the charities or the circumstances, our knitters are dedicated to making a difference. They will work continuously to put love and warmth back into the Edmonton community, and their generosity will touch thousands of lives of people they have never met.
Please click the image below to enjoy a short video that highlights this wonderful event!
GEF Seniors Housing holds an annual raffle over the summer months with an early bird prize of $500 and a grand prize of $1,500. The Building for Life Raffle is a staple in GEF Seniors Housing’s fundraising efforts and continues to be one of the most exciting endeavours over the summer for the residents and tenants living in GEF Seniors Housing buildings and for the communities at large who take part.
“There’s nothing better than making that call to tell someone they won a pretty significant prize,” says Chris Schieman, Public Relations Manager with GEF Seniors Housing. Schieman, along with the rest of the Communications team, take charge of GEF Seniors Housing’s fundraising initiatives, including the ever popular Building for Life Breakfast Fundraiser.
Schieman goes on to explain that most people contribute to the raffle, “not even thinking about the prizes. Every call that I’ve made telling someone they won a prize, they always respond saying they weren’t expecting anything. They just wanted to give something back.”
Last year’s early bird prize winner was Juvy Santos, a friend of the staff working at Cathedral Close. Santos stopped by GEF Seniors Housing’s Central Services to pick up her cheque and posed for a few photos.
The grand prize winner from 2016’s raffle was Joan Ripplinger, a long-time tenant living at the Britannia Gardens apartment building. Schieman and the rest of the Communications team paid a visit to Ripplinger at Britannia Gardens to present the grand prize cheque.
“I remember [Joan] Ripplinger telling me about how she and the other tenants at Britannia Gardens all get together to buy raffle tickets,” recalls Schieman. “It’s something that many people find a lot of fun and they can take part knowing the money raised is going to a good place.”
Tickets for the Building for Life Raffle are only two dollars each, which helps make taking part more accessible for everyone. Efforts from 2016’s raffle brought in close to $7,000 for the Sakaw Terrace building project.
With tickets for the raffle going on sale starting June 1, 2017, and available to purchase at any of GEF Seniors Housing’s buildings or at Central Services (14220 109 Ave, Edmonton, AB.), Schieman is excited to see what this year’s raffle will bring in. As he explains, every year the raffle can be a little bit unpredictable.
“We’ve had years where the winners donate back the prizes, we’ve had tickets completely sell out at some of the buildings, and we’ve even seen individuals spend hundreds of dollars on tickets with no expectation for winning,” Schieman says. “You give people an opportunity to contribute to something they believe in, and they will take full advantage to contribute. In the end, everyone who takes part in this raffle believes in our mission and wants to help us push forward so that no senior ever has to worry about where they’re going to call home.”
Every year, members of knitting clubs based in GEF Seniors Housing buildings donate thousands of pieces of winter outdoor wear to local charities at an event that’s become known as the Great Knitting Giveaway. All the yarn used was donated to the knitting clubs throughout the year at the more than 40 buildings that GEF Seniors Housing currently owns or manages. The winter clothing given out ranges from toques to mittens to scarfs and even includes pieces for kids and newborns.
“This is an opportunity for the seniors to give back to their communities,” says Emily Rotella, Assistant Manager with Pleasantview Place and former Chair of the Great Knitting Giveaway event. “The people who receive the items our knitters donated doesn’t just give them warmth on the outside for the cold months, but warmth on the inside too knowing that someone cares enough to hand make a toque or a scarf that’s going to help them.”
The event itself is a thank you to the knitters who made the clothing that was donated and features speakers from the charities receiving the items, telling the seniors about the kinds of people their contributions are going on to help. Charities that collect the winter clothing include the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Operation Friendship Seniors Society, schools in low-income areas such as St. Benedict Catholic School, and the Royal Alexandra Hospital maternity ward.
“A lot of the seniors don’t think their donations are a big deal,” Rotella says. “But, [for example], they’re giving a baby her first toque and that family is going to treasure it for their whole lives.”
The knitters meet year-round as part of their recreation programs to make the winter clothing that is eventually donated. The seniors are given new knitting patterns to continually challenge them and keep the activity interesting. For many seniors, the knitting clubs are a chance to socialize and remain close to others living in their buildings. But for some, it’s what gives them a purpose to their lives.
“We have some knitters who never went to school and never learned to read,” says Rotella. “So knitting is what they can contribute to the world and it’s how they know they can help others.”
For Rotella, the Great Knitting Giveaway is an opportunity not just to show the knitting clubs from GEF Seniors Housing an appreciation for everything they do throughout the year, but also demonstrate that what would be something to pass the time for many is actually making a huge difference in Edmonton communities.
“We participated in an event at St. Benedict Catholic School where some of our seniors read to the kids and we asked how many received winter clothing from the Great Knitting Giveaway and almost all of the hands went up,” Rotella says. “That was a moment when some of our seniors realized how much of a difference their donations made. These are kids who would have gone the winter without mittens or toques and the kindness of a few knitters made sure these kids stayed warm during the winter.”