Rotaract's Be an Angel to a Senior program takes off

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The Rotaract Club of Stratford’s Be An Angel to a Senior program has taken off in the three years since Sarah Merkel was inspired by a similar initiative in London.

Merkel, a Rotaract Club volunteer and past-president, tackled the idea during her second maternity leave. She co-ordinated gifts for about 40 seniors in the community during that first year, a number that has nearly tripled since.

“I just thought it was something nice for seniors, (especially at) Christmas,” she said. “They’re so wonderful, and depending on circumstances, some might not have family and are more in need. It brings some extra cheer at Christmastime.”

Rebecca Price, the current Rotaract president and program co-lead with Merkel, reached out to contacts at local agencies One Care, The Local Community Food Centre, Emily Murphy Centre, Optimism Place, Stratford Lakeside Active Adults Association, House of Blessing, YMCA and Community Living, who helped sign up 112 seniors for the program in 2020. Gift requests ranged from gift cards for groceries and transportation to toiletries.


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Rebecca Price, the current Rotaract president and program co-lead, reached out to contacts at local agencies who helped sign up 112 seniors for the Be An Angel to a Senior program. Submitted photo

It took less than two weeks to find sponsors – known as “angels” – for each senior. Some sponsored more than one, and sponsors were required to spend at least $25 per senior. About 10 volunteers signed up to deliver the gifts, many of which included cards, magnets, trinkets, masks and wreaths made by people in the community.

Tradition Mutual Insurance and the Rotary Club of Festival City Stratford also stepped up with $1,000 donations apiece, some of which will help struggling seniors throughout the year.

“It was amazing the amount of people in the Stratford community who wanted to support seniors,” Merkel said. “My heart was touched by all the people who wanted to help out.”

Merkel was particularly pleased to hear the story of one senior who said they smiled each time they walked past their fridge and saw a card made by a child.

“It’s something as simple as that that can bring joy to people.”

The pandemic has put senior isolation, particularly given the chaos within retirement homes and long-term care facilities, in the spotlight. It’s an issue Merkel, who works for Huron Perth public health but is back on maternity leave, said exists with or without COVID-19.

The program has room to grow to about 150 to 200 people in the coming years, she added, but there are limits.

“It’s also maintaining my own mental health and work-life balance.”

To volunteer for next year’s program, or with another Rotaract initiative, email Merkel at