For over a decade, Christmas elves appear to have taken a special fondness to seniors living in the Cariboo.
That’s when longtime Williams Lake resident Maureen Margetts and a dear, family friend she called Grandma Jenks (Marg Jenkins), came up with the idea to hold a secret Santa’s Elves for Seniors living in independent living, long-term care, or assisted living facilities.
Grandma Jenks had recently moved into what was then Retirement Concepts (now Williams Lake Seniors Village), and Maureen would regularly go visit her.
“She would say: ‘Oh, it’s so sad. So and so doesn’t have any family that comes to visit them, and so and so can’t find his deck of cards, and this lady needs a calendar,” Maureen said. “Grandma Jenks was the belle of the ball. She was the neatest person, and she would write down everyone’s name and what they were missing, then she started giving me a list and I’d go buy all the stuff.”
Maureen and Grandma Jenks would then roam the halls delivering all the gifts to residents, much to their delight.
“I’d always say: ‘You can’t open this ‘til Christmas,’ but they wouldn’t,” Margetts laughed. “Everyone would be so happy, and it just made me feel better and made Grandma Jenks not worry so much.”
When Grandma Jenks passed away, the list of seniors needing gifts at Christmas time had grown so long Margetts needed a helper to sort through all the names.
That’s when she enlisted the help of fellow Williams Lake resident Caren Pritchard, who was a complete stranger to her at the time.
In 2016, Pritchard said she had been in the process of putting together her own plan to deliver gifts to seniors, as well, when Maureen contacted her.
“I had been thinking: ‘I can’t keep doing this,’” Maureen said. “I’d been whining about it and [my husband] John said, ‘Well, find someone else to help.’
“I’d seen her name on Facebook, I didn’t know her, but knew her mom and that she was a real go-getter, so I phoned her up and asked if she would like to take half the names and find elves, amongst her friends, people that would take care of a senior, and she jumped right on board. She finds her elves and I find my elves and that’s that.”
Over the years, the list has continued to grow, where last year 40 gifts were distributed among residents at the Williams Lake Seniors Village.
Each year Margetts and Pritchard get a list from the Williams Lake Seniors Village, along with gift requests. They then divvy up their lists of gift ideas among people they know in order to deliver the gifts in time for Christmas.
Pritchard said she wanted to get involved after thinking about people living in seniors facilities who have no family around over the holidays. This year, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, it will be especially challenging, she said.
“At Christmas, everyone’s heart starts expanding, like the Grinch, and everybody just wants to give,” she said. “I find it very heartwarming to think I made somebody smile, especially at this time of year.”
The dynamic duo of Christmas elves has also expanded their lists this year to include items for Cariboo Place and for seniors living independently who take part in activities at the Williams Lake Seniors Activity Centre.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Pritchard said of the number of people who do not have family nearby over the holidays. “There are so many people in need. And this is going to be a particularly hard year for a lot of people.”
Thinking back over the years, Margetts noted her favourite gift ever was for a Williams Lake Seniors Village resident several years ago.
“All this one man wanted was an extra-large Batman suit,” she chuckled. “I just thought: ‘How am I ever going to do this?’ but I gave it to one of my most creative friends and, God bless her, I don’t know where she found it, but she did it.
“Well, this man would wear that Batman suit down for breakfast, lunch, whatever, and when the ladies came he would put out their chairs, push them in. He was a real gentleman. It’s fun stories like that, that make it all worth it.”