Generosity overflows for Norquay’s Sleigh Bells program

Now in its fourth year, the Norquay Sleigh Bells for Senior’s initiative has a problem – they have received too many donations.

“This year we have more funds than we need and I would love to pass some on to another care home with seniors needing some extra love this Christmas,” offered group organizer, Kaeley Kish on a Facebook post to fans and supporters of the event in early December.

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During a phone interview with the Kamsack Times, Kish explained that the program was created to brighten the holidays for seniors who live alone or struggle with isolation in the communities of Norquay, Pelly, and Hyas, including a Norquay care home. Supporters were invited to donate $20 towards the purchase of a gift.

This year, Kish witnessed such an outpouring of generosity that was so unexpected, she was left with a sizeable surplus of cash. Within the three communities in the program, every Sleigh Bells recipient was accounted for. After some careful thought and consultation, Kish decided to reach out to yet another community - the Preeceville Care Home for seniors.

“I called them and basically said, we’ve got an extra $500 – do you want it?” Kish explained.

She told the care home that she hoped the money would be spent on either gifts for residents, or used for recreational expenses. Although surprised at first, the care home staff happily accepted the donation and mentioned it would cap off their fundraising efforts to build a nativity scene at the home.

Kish explained there was a great full-circle story involving a former beloved Sleigh Bells recipient, “Blondie”, who moved out of the area, but now lives at the Preeceville care home.

“When CTV came out to a story about the [Sleigh Bells] program, Blondie provided a great interview,” said Kish. “It’s so nice that we can connect with her again in this way.”

In previous years, the popular Sleigh Bells for Senior’s program was open to the public. A large number of volunteers would assemble at the Legion in Norquay to participate in the ‘big wrap night’ and festive delivery of holiday gifts throughout the area. However, pandemic safety protocols put a massive damper on the growing Christmas tradition.

“We had to close to the public this year and limit the wrap night to a tiny number. People were so disappointed,” said Kish. “I know a lot of events had to be completely cancelled, but I just couldn’t do it. The thought of not reaching out this Christmas to those who are isolated – it just breaks my heart. I felt that in a year like this, the need would be even greater.”

Kish’s decision to proceed with the event meant the creation of a lengthy set of procedures to ensure safety. First of all, the gifts would sit in quarantine for a number of days. After the quarantine period was over, the “big wrap” night would involve a very small number of volunteers – all socially distanced – who had to wear masks, wash hands regularly, and sanitize thoroughly between the wrapping of each gift. With such few volunteers allowed, the arduous process took much longer than usual.

In past years, all gifts were delivered to the doors of delighted recipients about a week before Christmas on a horse-pulled wagon throughout all three communities. Residents would come outside, ask for hugs, and often invite volunteers inside for a warm beverage and a chat.

“None of those things were possible this year,” said Kish.

Instead, residents were asked to watch for the delivery team from inside their homes. Gifts were dropped off from a truck pulling a float. Deliveries were made with “no contact” and an appropriate social distance was kept. Although the event took a turn from its usual proceedings, Kish and her team of volunteers said the precautions were “more than worth it” to ensure everyone have a safe and happy holiday season.