December 23, 2009

CANADA: Caring when it counts

. EDMONTON, Alberta / Edmonton Sun / Columnists / Decemeber 23, 2009 Government workers play Good Samaritan to special seniors By Mindelle Jacobs Struggling with multiple chronic ailments, long-term care resident June Evans hasn't seen or heard from her children or grandchildren for more than 10 years. So when a brightly-coloured bag stuffed with Christmas gifts from strangers was delivered to her bedside recently, she was almost in tears. As social worker Georgie Pesaruk helped her unwrap each present at Capital Care Grandview's continuing care facility, Evans's face lit up with excitement. "I'm overwhelmed," said the 83-year-old, overcome with emotion. "I just can't believe somebody would do that and be so kind to me! It's more than I ever expected." Out of the bag came a brush and comb set. "Oh, great! I love glamour things," said Evans. "Oh, wow!" she said of the body lotion, shampoo and lip balm. Photo for illustration by courtesy of CapitalCare "Oh, my gosh!" she gushed as she examined the manicure set. "I just love everything!" People are extraordinarily charitable at this time of year but the residents in long-term care homes who have little or no contact with family are often the forgotten needy. "The image of the family at Christmas time doesn't classically seem to include the very frail elderly when people are thinking of giving to charity," explains Pesaruk. Some long-term care residents are estranged from their families and some have no relatives, such as those who are under the guardianship of the public trustee, she says. Others have families but those relatives are struggling financially. For 16 years, Alberta Energy employees have been angels of mercy, buying Christmas presents for long-term care patients who might otherwise be overlooked. Many of the gifts go to people with dementia or to those who can't talk, because they've been affected by strokes or other conditions. The staff at four of Capital Care's facilities, Grandview, Norwood, Dickinsfield and Lynnwood, suggest what each needy resident might like and the Alberta Energy workers purchase and wrap the personalized gifts. Some Alberta Health workers are also playing Santa, providing toiletry kits -- each with a tiny teddy bear -- for those in Capital Care facilities for post-surgery rehab. "It just breaks our hearts that there are people at Christmas time who don't get anything," says Alberta Energy's Susan Friedrich, who has helped organize the project for more than a decade. "They're so humble," she says of the long-term care residents, who range in age from 25 to 101. "They want toothbrushes and toothpaste and brushes and sweatsuits." For years, she and fellow volunteers delivered the gifts themselves. But now, with about 150 to drop off, a Capital Care courier driver delivers them on her own time. Ironically, as the gifts were being loaded into the van last week, a bylaw officer ticketed the driver for being double-parked. He was unmoved that it was for charity. "Grinch!" grumbles Friedrich. Pesaruk says staff request tactile presents for dementia patients. "A lot of times, people want something to hold and you'll find a resident holding a pair of slippers or a tuque because they're fuzzy and soft," she says. So the Alberta Energy gang showered the care homes with fleece throws and teddy bears. "For some people, their capacity is so diminished that maybe they don't know it's Christmas," says Pesaruk. "But it doesn't take away from the joy of it all because of the faces that light up when there's a package. Does it spark a memory from long ago?" [rc] Mindelle Jacobs E-Mail: mindy.jacobs@sunmedia.ca Copyright © 2009 Edmonton Sun