The big heart behind Santas for Seniors

How loss inspired Robyn Carruthers start-up initiative that’s grown to bring holiday gifts to 400 seniors.

The big heart behind Santas for Seniors
Travis Devonport

After Robyn Carruthers' grandmother died in 2006, she missed the joy of surprising her with Christmas gifts. Fourteen years later, Carruthers' gift-giving hobby has helped to support nearly 1,000 seniors across the municipality who can't afford to celebrate; an initiative she calls Santas for Seniors.

"I'd go to the mall and see something she would have loved but I had no one to buy it for," says Carruthers. In 2010, she started calling local nursing homes, inquiring about seniors spending Christmas alone. Her hobby has since spread throughout Halifax, Sackville, Bedford and Dartmouth. This year, Carruthers' efforts have inspired more than 700 volunteers to buy gifts for 400 seniors.

Carruthers' work starts in August, contacting local senior aid groups, including Metro Housing and Chebucto Links. She understands it can be hard to make ends meet as a senior. "I had a woman reach out to me. Her husband has cancer and they haven't exchanged gifts in two years because of financial reasons," she says. "Any time I get stressed or overwhelmed I read the lists and think, I'm having a bad day but this person just wants a pot they can cook their soup in."

Arline Boyle has volunteered with Santas for Seniors for two years. She says she admires what Carruthers is doing because she worries people don't care about seniors as much as they used to. "I grew up in a family of eight kids and we were always brought up to take care of seniors," says Boyle. "Our kids' generation are not doing that because they have to go away for work, they're not connected with the families anymore."

As the Santas for Seniors initiative grows, Carruthers plans on providing continued support to seniors struggling throughout the year. "We reach out to the groups and tell them, 'Any needs throughout the year reach out to us,' and they have," says Carruthers. "This is really about keeping seniors in people's minds."

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