Shoebox surprise gives elderly something to smile about

2016-12-13 12:43
Elizabeth Sylvester with her gift. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Elizabeth Sylvester with her gift. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Cape Town - Olive Julie stares intently at Santa Claus, waiting for her name to be called.

She knows he is just a man wearing a red suit and work boots, but he comes bearing gifts for all the frail residents of Lily Haven in Bonteheuwel, where she has lived for almost 20 years.

They may be well into their golden years, but the retirement village residents were as excited as children when the SeniorSanta Shoebox initiative made a special delivery to the Cape Flats frail care centre on Monday.

Elves handed out dozens of personalised Christmas boxes while a jazz band played in the communal room, much to the delight of the elderly tenants dressed in their Sunday best.

Packages were opened with care, while others needed help as their arthritic fingers struggled to unwrap the parcels.

Julie, 81, closed her eyes while struggling to open her Christmas box. She wasn’t hoping for anything fancy, she said. All she really wanted was chocolate.

Peeping inside, she spotted two bars along with toiletries, a magazine, nail polish, a box of Oreo cookies, and other snacks.

“Wonderful,” she exclaimed. “It’s like the person who packed this knows me. Good thing no one let it slip I am a diabetic – we all need a sweet treat once in a while.”

For Julie, the early Christmas gift meant the world. She loves reading, but magazines are not at the top of her priorities list. They have become very expensive, she explained.

“And I don’t know when the last time was that someone did my nails. Next time someone pops in to visit, I will make sure they are painted.”

A little love for the lonely

She doesn’t get many visitors. Her husband died more than a decade ago and she never had any children.

“I do like it when my in-laws pop around. I love chatting. The residents here are lovely too, but some are not in possession of their full faculties anymore. I don’t mind too much. They are still good company.”

The SeniorSanta Shoebox initiative was started by Capetonian Angela Gorman in 2015, when she wanted to bring a sparkle to an elderly person’s eye.

Last year, she delivered 60 boxes for the seniors at a Plumstead old age home. After rounding up family and friends and reaching out to people through Facebook, a total of 258 packages would be distributed this year at Lily Haven, Erica Place in Athlone, and Doordrift Lodge in Plumstead.

Dressed as elves, Gorman and her assistants on Monday wished each Lily Haven resident well for the festive season as they handed over the carefully wrapped packages.

She had come to know some of the residents personally, and was saddened by their stories of loneliness.

One elderly man proudly told her he had two sons, one of whom has moved to New Zealand.

“The other only comes to visit him once every two months. Nobody remembers some of them,” Gorman said.

The initiative was intended to remind the gift recipients that “there are people who know their names and care about them”. 

Hardly ever a knock

Among the special gift requests to Gorman during a visit last week was for a pillow, a packet of smoked beef Simba chips, and a slab of Milky Bar chocolate.

Dressed in a bright floral blouse and eagerly waiting for her name to be called, Elizabeth Sylvester, 85, had no specific treat she hoped to receive.

“I have all I need – a good family that cares about me and comes to visit. They are the best gift,” she said proudly.

It saddened her to see that many of her neighbours at the centre hardly, if ever, receive a knock at the door from their loved ones, Sylvester said.

“But we are here for each other. It’s not the presents and things that count. It’s seeing those you care about and knowing that someone loves you. People should never forget the importance of that.”

To get involved with SeniorSanta Shoebox, click here.

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