A mum and her two daughters are hoping the people of North Kirklees will show plenty of Christmas spirit by supporting their Santa’s Seniors project.
Suzanne Gunson and her daughters Amy and Lizzie run the initiative from Suzanne’s house, collecting gifts and distributing them to elderly people in the community.
Until now the project has been focused on Huddersfield, but Suzanne is hoping to spread the Christmas cheer throughout North Kirklees.
“Amy started it four years ago after hearing a story about a fellow who was on his own, and that prompted her to think we should do something,” Suzanne explained.
“So me, Amy and my other daughter Lizzie attracted some gifts from among our circle.
“We also made contact with our local branch of Age UK, who have backed us from the start.
“We started a Facebook page the following year, which has been our main platform since, and reached 356 people.
“Then last year the response was remarkable. We handed out three gifts each to 728 people.
“It’s just organically evolved but we get so much help. It’s wonderful how we are supported by so much community spirit.
“This year all the libraries throughout Kirklees are collection points for gift bags.
“We’ve gathered more than 1,500 receptacles, from used bags to Christmas bags and we’ve even had Brownies jazz up some bags.
“They’re all stacked in my front-room, which is our grotto. It’s a good job I’m not house proud!”
Suggested donations include homeware, clothing, games, stationary, toiletries, biscuits and chocolates. Handmade Christmas cards are also welcomed.
“The feedback we’ve had shows that it makes a big difference to people to feel remembered,” said Suzanne. ”At the beginning I thought ‘no-one would want to give things to strangers’ and I was a bit nervous people might feel pitied or patronised, but everyone has taken it in the spirit it was intended.
“For those of us who are lucky enough to have families, who knows what life has in store. that’s how people can end up on their own.
“If anyone does feel lonely or isolated, there is help and companionship out there. “A lot of people are too proud to seek help, but all those we help remain anonymous.
“I would say to people just to be aware our your neighbours and if there is anything you can do.
“Sometimes all it takes is just a phone call or a knock on the door. It took my daughter to show me how simple it is, but it’s very rewarding.”
Santa’s Seniors give everyone three gifts, which must be new or pristine.Any gifts that aren’t suitable are passed on to other services that can make better use of them.
The project had 22 volunteer gift wrappers last year, as well as help from Brownies, Rainbows and Cubs.
In 2016, three donated gifts went to 73 elderly men and women. 2017’s operation saw that escalate to 356 receiving three wrapped presents each. And in 2018 they reached 728 people.
This year, their goal is to reach 1,000.
“People have really taken it to their hearts,” said Suzanne. “We are powered by an amazing team of volunteers, and have built up contacts with all sorts of agencies and volunteer organisations.
“We donate to a group who provide a Christmas dinner to 150 people, care home, home care agencies, volunteer church groups.
“There are so many amazing groups out there that do so much good work in the community.
“We do hear some tear-jerking stories but we like to focus on the positives. We like to think we’re a little drop of cheer for people who are lonely.”
Lisa Butland, chief executive of Age UK Calderdale and Kirklees, said: “Age UK Calderdale and Kirklees have been working with Santa’s Seniors for a number of years and watched them develop and grow. Suzanne and the team do a fantastic job and we support by helping with promotion, networking and suggesting gift recipients. “Christmas can be an especially lonely time for older people who don’t have friends or family close so it makes a real difference to receive a gift and to know that someone out there cares. “I would encourage everyone to donate a gift or their time to help Santa’s Seniors to bring a little joy to a lonely older person this Christmas.”
Anyone wishing to get involved can call 07533 848211 or message the group on Facebook.Ssingle nominations are welcome, while groups will be considered.
Donation drop-off points (before Friday, December 6) include Batley Library, Cleckheaton Library, Dewsbury Library and Mirfield Library.