BBC News

Silver Santa to bring Christmas to lonely elderly people

By Niall Glynn
BBC News NI

Published
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe wrapped presents will be delivered on the week beginning 14 December

The grief of losing her 92-year-old mother to Covid-19 has led one County Down woman to help those elderly people feeling isolated this Christmas.

Heather Houston is bringing a "Silver Santa" to older people in care homes and living alone in the community.

She got the details of 120 elderly people who would not have received a gift from anyone this year.

She then asked friends and family to fill the role of Santa and provide them with personalised presents.

Since her initial Facebook post, Heather has received emails from as far away as the US and Canada from people who want to help out.

She said the idea came to her as she always made up a "box of goodies" for her mum, Andree Prentice, at Christmas.

'Dealing with grief'

"I suppose in the midst of me dealing with the grief of having lost her, it brought into my head the amount of elderly people who are alone," she said.

"I knew within the nursing homes it's just an absolute nightmare if you were an elderly resident with the thought of getting this [Covid] and then not being able to see family."

Heather is involved with an organisation called Warehouse at North Down Christian Fellowship Church who deliver dinners to people in need.

With their help she was able to get contacts of elderly people living on their own in the community or in care homes in the Bangor and Newtownards areas.

image copyrightHeather Houston
image captionHeather Houston lost her mother Andree Prentice to Covid-19

"We made contact initially with about six or seven care homes and got the names of about 120 people," she said.

"We got what their likes are, because I thought if you're going to buy people presents it's better to know what they like."

She added: "It was just making me smile when I read that one gentleman liked Manchester United and loved drinking Guinness, one lady wanted to feely really girlie and would love a new hair band and some smelly perfume.

"It just got me thinking that this is lovely, that we can personalise something."

The wrapped presents will be delivered on the week beginning 14 December.

'All over the world'

It's fair to say that things have taken off in a way Heather could not have imagined.

"In my brain I was thinking '120 people, I'll be able to co-ordinate that no problem'," she said.

"I posted it on my Facebook account on Sunday just to let my friends and family see it and thinking I'm bound to be able to get 120 people and people might do one or two each.

"Then a friend asked me to make it public, which I did and I woke up on Monday morning to about 250 emails and I'm now literally scrolling through people from all over the world - Canada, America - going: 'Give me three residents, give me four.'"

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionHeather said her mother would have loved the thought of elderly people being "top of the pile" at Christmas

Heather said she has heard about older people phoning the Samaritans during the night "because the loneliness has become very paralysing".

She believes people want to do something positive to help in what has been an extremely difficult year for everyone.

"I think it's just one of those things, it just feels good to give something positive back into the community in the midst of what is a challenging time," she said.

Heather said she feels the Silver Santa campaign is also a fitting tribute to her mum, who enjoyed making crafts even into her 90s.

"After she died we went to her house and the amount of things we found that she had made, like little Christmas stockings," she said.

"So I've brought out all the stockings and we're going to put a little chocolate bar in each stocking and we're going to incorporate that into every present as well.

"So that will make it feel like there's a little bit of mum in this, because I know she would have loved it."

Related Topics

  • Elderly people
  • Christmas
  • Loneliness
  • Care homes