The Little Brothers adapts to pandemic reality and helps out single seniors over holidays

A volunteer delivers a gift box to a single senior, as the Little Brothers adapts to the COVID-19 pandemic while supporting those over 75 years old who are alone. SOURCE: The Little Brothers/Facebook

Without the possibility of organizing its traditional Christmas dinner, the Little Brothers, which provides support to seniors who live alone, has found new ways to fulfill its mission during this holiday season shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I quickly said to our volunteers: 'We are not cancelling Christmas, we are reinventing Christmas!'" said Little Brothers general manager Caroline Sauriol.

Each year, the organization celebrates Christmas in style with its 1,800 Great Friends - single people aged 75 and over who live across the province.

On Dec. 24, volunteers go to the homes of single people who cannot travel. The next day, a Christmas dinner brings together hundreds of people in a large hotel in Montreal.

In 2020, the organization used the financial resources usually reserved for the organization of the dinner to offer more support at home.

In particular, advent calendars were distributed to all those who are on the Little Brothers' registers.

The organization also gave them a surprise box, which contained several small gifts. It could be food, playbooks, calendars or even crafts made by children, depending on each person's needs.

"It was our way of telling the elders that, even though it was a boring Christmas, we were there for them," said Sauriol.

In order to comply with the health regulations in force, Little Brothers volunteers took several weeks to prepare gifts for the elders, according to the director of the organization.

"We had nearly 1,100 gifts to wrap, but we couldn't have 10 people at the same time to wrap them, we had to do it only two or three people at a time," said Sauriol.

With rigorous management of schedules and respecting sanitary measures, the organization's volunteers were able to wrap and distribute all the gifts on time.

The volunteers also took the trouble to call the Great Friends they are matched with on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. A pre-recorded call by actress Beatrice Picard was also sent to them on Christmas Day, to wish them a good day.

According to Sauriol, the preparations for Christmas have given a new dose of energy to the 2,000 volunteers of the Little Brothers, who were starting to feel tired this fall.

"It was finally concrete, it was tangible," she explained. "So the packaging and distribution of gifts really re-mobilized our teams."

Since the start of the pandemic, many volunteers have come to the aid of single people, in particular by calling them, simply to chat.

The organization will have to continue its efforts this winter, since this period is always the most difficult for the elderly who live alone, according to the director.

She recalled in particular that the feeling of loneliness among single people will continue to increase in the coming months, and that "the end of January and the month of February are always difficult periods to go through."

To fight the winter blues, the Little Brothers will continue to rely on their pairing program, which puts single people in contact with a volunteer.

The organization is also looking for additional volunteers for this telephone line. People aged 75 who feel lonely can benefit from free support by calling 1-877-805-1955.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2021. 

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