Program aims to increase interaction for seniors in need

When you enter the Falcon Ridge home of Barbara (Pat) Pereira you are met by the wonderful aroma of coconut milk and other exotic spices simmering away on the stove.

The 68-year-old grandmother of 18 may not be frivolous with her money but she loves to have people over to cook for.

“I try to make a lasting impression — when I meet people I don’t consider them strangers,” said Pereira.

However, the visitors Pereira receives are few and far between.

Helen, a recipient from last year, recieved shampoo, chocolate, cookies, a colourful knitted blanket and a gift certificate to a grocery store.
Photo courtesy of: CSRS
The mother of 11 children, six of whom live in Calgary, has severe back problems that have left her relatively immobile. The children she has in Calgary have health and financial problems of their own that keep them from visiting her.

Pereira is housebound much of the time, requiring the use of a walker and assisted transportation services when she has the opportunity to leave her home.

“My radio is important. I listen to the radio when I am downstairs, and upstairs I have the TV and I have the news,” she said of how she spends the hours alone.

Pereira has been selected as a recipient of this year’s Adopt a Grandparent program from the Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society. The program provides a personalized hamper filled with gifts and food to low-income or significantly isolated seniors.

Annastasia Sommer-Stevens from Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society, described significantly isolated as people who receive social contact no more than once a week.

Sommer-Stevens said the isolation could lead to illness, injury, depression and victimization by fraudsters.

The hampers are delivered to recipients by volunteers who then stay and visit.

“The main part of the program is really about that visit,” said Sommer-Stevens.

A 2007 report from Statistics Canada suggests that almost 10 per cent of seniors surveyed reported that they did not have any close friends. In contrast, only 1 per cent of individuals in the 25 – 54 age group reported this.

Pereira used to spend her time volunteering at an elementary school in her neighbourhood and with various health organizations.

“People are my most favourite thing,” she said, adding she used to make trips to the mall just to strike up conversations with people and “cheer them up.”

These days, however, she depends on her eldest daughter Caroline Gonzalez, who arrived from Trinidad in August and will be returning home in February.

“Before she was here I had to get up even when I couldn’t manage,” Pereira said, adding that she is tired most of the time and in great pain from her back.

“Without her I don’t know what I’d do,” she said.

The Adopt a Grandparent program started in 2008 as a holiday party for seniors but changed in 2010 to incorporated housebound seniors. This year’s program is slated to help 250 seniors but there is a potential to expand if there is enough of a response from donors.

Sommer-Stevens said the organization tends to discourage gifts in kind and instead asks for a $100 donation per senior.

“We can get so much more for our dollar than people do when they shop,” said Sommer-Stevens.

Pereira said material things don’t bother her much but she could use a good winter jacket.

“I wish on Christmas Day I could be up and healthy and be able to move around without much pain,” she added.

She is not sure why she was selected as a recipient but suggests her faith has something to do with it.

“Perhaps it’s God’s doing. I don’t know how many people believe in God but I do. It’s my main sustenance.”

achorney@cjournal.ca