Brooke and Carter Jonasson drop off their “Santas for Seniors” gifts at the Home Hardware parking lot on Sunday, Dec. 6. The gifts will be delivered to local seniors for Christmas. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Brooke and Carter Jonasson drop off their “Santas for Seniors” gifts at the Home Hardware parking lot on Sunday, Dec. 6. The gifts will be delivered to local seniors for Christmas. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Port Alberni steps up for seniors during holiday season

Two separate programs collecting donations for seniors in care homes

People in Port Alberni are stepping up to provide Christmas cheer for seniors in the community this year.

Port Alberni resident Nicole Shanks started “Santas for Seniors” in 2019, collecting gifts for residents at Tsawaayuus Rainbow Gardens during the holiday season. This year, the program expanded to include Westhaven. She was able to match all 86 residents in both care homes with a “Santa” within hours.

“I was quite surprised,” said Shanks. “I knew we would definitely find Santas for everyone, but it was a lot faster than expected. People stepped up, for sure. We have more Santas than seniors, which is a good problem to have.”

For her second year running the program, Shanks was able to make the drop-off a “zero contact” affair, with COVID-19 precautions—including masks and hand sanitizer—in place. She collected gifts in the Home Hardware parking lot on Sunday, Dec. 6, and will have another drop-off day on Dec. 12. Gifts will be delivered to Rainbow Gardens on Dec. 13 and Westhaven on Dec. 20.

Another Port Alberni resident has started up a new program, collecting donations for seniors in the Alberni Valley who may not have family or friends to celebrate the holiday festivities with.

Sharon Swakum is a recent Health Care Assistant graduate from Discovery College, and for her practicum she found herself working at a seniors’ care home. She asked several residents what they would like for Christmas gifts.

“A lot of them asked for simple things, like shampoo and hand soap,” she said.

Swakum started Grandma & Grandpa’s Christmas Wish List as a school project, but the program has grown. She is collecting donations of toiletries (soap, shampoo, razors, lotion, deodorant), socks, slippers and ornaments and other decorations. Swakum has made arrangements to drop off the donations at seniors care homes in Port Alberni and Qualicum Beach, although the names of the facilities cannot be shared due to privacy reasons.

Swakum has been set up in the parking lot between Staples and No Frills on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. You can also call her at 250-327-2766 or email to make other drop-off arrangements. She is planning to collect donations until Dec. 21.

She said she has already gained quite a bit of interest from the community.

“I’m happy that the community has been so giving,” she said. “I just want to get more awareness out there that this is happening.”

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Sharon Swakum sets up in the parking lot at Pacific Rim Shopping Centre to collect donations for seniors. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Sharon Swakum sets up in the parking lot at Pacific Rim Shopping Centre to collect donations for seniors. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

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