Christmas spirit spreads through Covenant sites

This year’s holiday season is filled with heartwarming stories from across the Covenant family. Our teams have worked hard to ensure that the Christmas spirit finds a way into the hearts of our residents, patients and the communities we serve.

We’re sharing some of the many activities and events that are spreading Christmas cheer across Alberta!

Winter Wonderland arrives at the Edmonton General

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Christmas celebrations have been limited at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre in the last few years. However, this year’s celebration has reignited the site’s Christmas spirit. “It really felt like Christmas here for the first time in a really long time,” says Brenda Neuman, recreation therapist.

Recreation team members pose with resident Baraza Kilobi and Santa at the Edmonton General's Winter Wonderland event.

The site’s recreation staff and volunteers put on a Winter Wonderland event for residents, patients and their families. Celebrated in the auditorium over the course of three days, the event offered a variety of holiday-themed activities for close to 200 guests. “We had games, a photo booth with Santa and a poinsettia draw, and we even made ornaments and Christmas cards,” says Brenda.

In previous years, the site held a modified version of this event; however, the staff and volunteers were excited to be able to create a more enjoyable experience this year. “We were able to have all the activities, we could sing together and there wasn’t a limit on how many visitors residents could have, so people were bringing whole families,” says Brenda. “It was really fun.”

Vivien Lo, recreation therapy assistant, and residents play the Mystery Tree game at the Winter Wonderland event.

“I think the residents and patients felt like things were normal again. They could come down to a larger event and see other people. I think it made them feel like it really was Christmas, rather than just another day on the unit,” Brenda says.

Special tree reminds us to count our blessings

Nestled amongst several other Christmas trees in the Grey Nuns Community Hospital’s lobby stands the white memorial tree that represents something other than the usual Christmas cheer.

The tree is decorated with photos of individuals who have lost their lives from overdose and the toxic drug poisoning crisis. “It’s a reminder that Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone,” says Teresa Lucier, volunteer services manager. “Many of these people have died here in this hospital.”

The memorial tree is part of the display in the Grey Nuns Community Hospital lobby.

Along with the photos, there is a white board in front of the tree where people can write the name of someone they have lost to overdose. “The board has been up for a week or so, and sadly, it’s about full now,” says Teresa.

The names of those who have lost their lives to overdose are added to a white board and displayed beside the memorial tree.

The tree symbolizes the immense impact that overdose has on our society. “It’s a way for us to remember and acknowledge that this is a crisis and that we can’t forget about it,” says Teresa. “People stop to look at the tree and reflect, and I think that’s really important.”

For Teresa, part of having Christmas spirit is feeling grateful for your loved ones, and the memorial tree reminds those who pass by to count their blessings. “Go home and hug your loved ones. Don’t take anything for granted,” she says.

A Christmas partnership spreads cheer

Through a partnership with local London Drugs outlets in Red Deer, Villa Marie’s residents are being treated to an act of Christmas generosity that has amazed staff. “I was totally taken aback by the compassion of London Drugs and their customers,” says Kathleen O’Connor, recreation therapist.

The London Drugs Stocking Stuffers for Seniors program partners with local care homes and charities across Western Canada with a mission to bring more holiday cheer to seniors.

A large collection of gifts is donated through the Stocking Stuffers for Seniors program.

Kathleen and Villa Marie staff are extremely grateful that the retailer has chosen to partner with them for the last five years. “They don’t need to pick us every year, and they do,” says Kathleen. “It’s just wonderful. We’re so blessed.”

Kathleen fills out a wish list on behalf of residents for the retailer, who then posts the items in store for customers to purchase as gifts. “The amount of generosity that goes into these gifts is just amazing,” she says.

Villa Marie staff pick up the donated gifts from London Drugs in Red Deer.

The program fills the residents with joy on Christmas not just because of the gifts themselves but also because of the thought behind them.

“It makes the residents feel special and loved,” says Kathleen. “Some of our residents don’t have any family at all, so it’s the only gift that they get. Some of them even cry because they are so overwhelmed that someone would do something like this for them.”

A Villa Marie resident receives their gift from Santa.

Kathleen is deeply moved to see the amount of Christmas spirit brought on through this initiative.

“It’s probably my favourite day of the year,” she says. “When we have our resident Christmas party and Santa comes to deliver the gifts to everyone and I see their faces light up, it’s just so rewarding. It’s why I do what I do.”

Volunteers spread the Christmas spirit at Villa Caritas

Volunteers from both the Misericordia Community Hospital and Villa Caritas are spreading the Christmas spirit with families and caregivers at Villa Caritas through the Hopeful Horizons initiative. They have made beautiful ornaments from wood slices that symbolize hope and light during challenging times.

“Having a loved one in the hospital over the holidays can be very difficult,” says Misty Zisin, clinical nurse specialist at Villa Caritas. “The ornaments represent a small token of hope for families and caregivers during this challenging time.”

A basket overflows with the ornaments made by volunteers from the Misericordia Community Hospital and Villa Caritas.

The idea for using hope as a theme for the initiative came from a collaboration among staff. “We realized how hope was something that has always been a central theme during our careers in health care,” says Brenda Shim, volunteer services manager. “We felt that a token of hope would be very impactful for families going through difficult times.”

The volunteers have made about 140 ornaments so far, with more on the way, says Esperanza Alves, volunteer services coordinator. The ornaments will be available in a section of Villa Caritas’s main lobby, which also houses various brochures and resources to support families and visitors.

Misty Zisin holds up one of the handcrafted ornaments.

Misty says the ornaments can be given to patients and staff or taken home. “It’s up to the families if they want to pay it forward or keep the ornaments for themselves as a reminder to stay hopeful.”

Evanston Summit residents give back to the community

Residents of Evanston Summit in Calgary are focused on spreading the Christmas spirit throughout their community this year. The Covenant Living site filled its resident bus with donations for the Veterans Food  Bank of Calgary through the Stuff a Bus campaign. The initiative resulted in a donation of 1,055 pounds of non-perishable food items and $540.00 of cash and gift cards.

“For residents, it was really important to support local,” says Victoria Slany, activity and volunteer coordinator. “They’ve seen the struggles brought about by COVID-19 in their community, and they wanted to find a way to give back.”

Victoria Slany displays a sign for Evanston Summit's Stuff a Bus campaign.

The Stuff a Bus campaign was also very personal for residents, says Victoria. “They can really relate to veterans because some of our residents are veterans themselves. Some of them haven’t always had what they do now and have received help in the past, so they want to pay it forward.”

To collect the goods for the campaign, Evanston Summit partnered with various local businesses to host drop sites. “We have drop sites all over Evanston; our community is just amazing,” says Victoria.

Donations to Evanston Summit's Stuff a Bus campaign will help veterans throughout Calgary.

The drop sites will continue to stay open until the end of December, allowing for more donations from the community to stream in. 

Couple’s Christmas crafting brings cheer

Handmade gifts from local couple Al and Jennie Machacek make all the difference for residents of St. Therese Villa and St. Michael’s Health Centre in Lethbridge. “Some of the residents don’t have any family around, so any gifts they get at Christmas are special,” says Christey-Ann Veldman, activity volunteer supervisor at St. Therese Villa.

Al and Jenny spread the Christmas spirit every year by crafting stockings for residents.

Al and Jennie Machacek show two of the stockings they made.

The couple has been active in the Lethbridge community for many years. “Jenny was part of the Ladies Auxiliary group at St. Michael’s for many years, volunteering and raising money,” says Christey-Ann. “Al would visit our sites to play accordion for the residents; he was a regular volunteer.” 

Beautifully crafted stockings bring Christmas joy to residents at St. Therese Villa and St. Michael’s Health Centre in Lethbridge.

Although the handcrafted stockings may seem like a simple gesture, they have a lasting impact on some of the residents, says Christey-Ann. “Many of the residents who have done crafts in the past love seeing that the stockings are homemade and keep them hanging in their rooms for quite a while after Christmas.”

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