Giving and Receiving

Caring Neighbours lends a helping hand to Santa.

In December, Don was in Walmart picking up a few things when he had a charming encounter with a young girl.

During the Christmas season, Don has a part-time job as Santa Claus. With his long white hair, bushy beard and jovial countenance he looks the part too.

“I was walking down the aisle and this little girl is just staring and staring at me and she kept going back to her mum.”

The mother explained to Don that her daughter is convinced that Don is the real Santa Claus. What else could Don do but to verify that yes, indeed, he is Santa Claus and that he would be making an appearance at the Scottsdale Mall the next day?

“The young girl said to me you’re here buying a belt for your big tummy!  So I reached into my basket and pulled out a pair of red and green suspenders and I said no I don’t use belts, I use suspenders for my big belly!” The little girl was thrilled and her mother was delighted with this unexpected encounter with St Nick.

Its clear Don loves being Santa, and he loves Christmas, but it wasn’t always a happy time for Don.

Back in 2012, he was living in Mexico. His marriage had ended, his health was failing quickly (he was later diagnosed with diabetes and COPD) and a business investment ended badly leaving him destitute. With the help of family member, he made it back to Canada, broke, sick, alone and homeless.

“I’d never been in that position before,” he says. “I was in shock that I couldn’t just pull up my boots and walk out in the street and do something.”

That first Christmas was a lonely one. “I spent it staring out the window with nothing in my apartment that would remind me it was Christmas.”

Slowly his life began to turn around: with the help of Sharon a social worker with Lookout Emergency Aid Society, he was able to find a subsidized apartment at the Legion, sort out the paperwork needed to get his Canada Pension, and he made friends as well.

One of those friends, Karen, let him know about the Caring Neighbours Program, whereby needy families and seniors are paired with individual and group donors to provide Christmas gifts. He visited the Family Services office in New West and filled out the request form.

“I thought they’d call me and we’d talk about what I needed, not thinking that they would take my list seriously,” he says laughing. “Being the clown that I like to be, I wrote down: a bottle of single malt scotch, a 32 inch flat screen TV, and good warm underwear and socks.”

“I thought I’d never hear from anyone with that kind of list.”

Sure enough, though, he got a call. The woman who got Don’s list was thrilled that she was giving gifts to Santa Claus. She and Don met over coffee, and when he received the parcels, he hesitated opening them.

When he took the parcels home, he was shocked: “I just couldn’t believe it.” There was everything on his list: a bottle of Glenfiddich, a 32-inch flat screen TV, and yes, even gift cards for the socks and underwear.

“There’s something you don’t quite get used to when you’re on welfare and on the bottom end of the scale. You get a lot of judgmental stuff,” he says. “It was one of the nicest things to have happened to me. It started a new point of view in my life that’s taken me right through to today.”