is looking to do a follow up story to Christmas Smiles for Seniors and Darren Steele, the man who started it all!  Within conversation she mentioned other articles she had on file… Here is one (text only)

‘Elves’ bring Christmas smiles to seniors alone for holidays
The Ottawa Citizen
Fri Dec 19 2003
Page: D10
Section: City
Byline: Isabella Mindak
Source: The Ottawa Citizen

Four years ago, Capt. Darren Steele had an idea: make every lone senior’s Christmas wish come true.

Capt. Steele, a public affairs officer with the Department of National Defence, had noticed that Ottawa-area charities were missing an important segment of the population.

“I donate to the Mission … so I know that homeless folks are looked after,” said Capt. Steele, 39. “Every time you turn around there’s something for kids. But I noticed there was a big lack when it came to seniors.”

So he came up with Christmas Smiles for Seniors. He contacted seniors’ residences, asked for a wish list from each resident who was without family, and hand-delivered gifts, free of charge.

In the beginning, Capt. Steele delivered to 175 seniors in eight homes. Today, he and about 800 helpers are delivering wishes to more than 1,000 seniors at 48 residences in and around the Ottawa region.

The gifts are donated by Capt. Steele and his band of volunteers, which includes employees of many Ottawa-area businesses, public servants, and citizens who simply want to help. In all, Capt. Steele says, about $40,000 in gifts will be handed out this holiday season.

Irene Kidd, 78, has been a resident of Barrhaven Longfield Manor for a year and a half, and has twice received a Christmas Smile. Without children and with her husband, Berkley, housebound due to illness, Mrs. Kidd spends much of her time alone.

Mrs. Kidd looks down with tear-filled eyes and fumbles with her hands as she explains how she misses her husband and how the two try to stay connected. “I talk to him about seven times a day on the phone,” she said. “I had many happy memories with him.”

Most of her days are spent in her favourite recliner by the window in her modest room. From there, she can see the photo of her husband on a small table, she can watch the world go by, talk on the phone, read and watch television.

Last Christmas, a little magic was dropped into her lap.

“I think it’s terrific,” said Mrs. Kidd. “They brought me a gift.”

It was a simple gift, 24 boxes of Kleenex to be exact, but Mrs. Kidd was very happy that someone thought of her and gave her something she needed.

“I use a lot of Kleenex with this nose,” said Mrs. Kidd.

This year, Christmas Smiles for Seniors delivered a cardigan, socks and a big bag of candy to Mrs. Kidd.

Capt. Steele tips his hat to the people he affectionately refers to as his elves. “I’ve got hundreds of elves out there,” said Capt. Steele. “It’s outstanding.”

The elves, in turn, applaud Capt. Steele’s personality and selfless spirit. “He’s a fairly big guy with a heart to match,” said Maj. James Simiana, a friend and elf.

Margaret Crook, another elf, says Capt. Steele will give whatever it takes to make sure solitary seniors are noticed. “Darren has spent a few hundred dollars himself this year,” said Ms. Crook. “He went out and spent his own money to get gifts.”

Capt. Steele’s goal is to reach every seniors’ home in the capital region and find out who is alone, said Ms. Crook.

“We hope we can make a difference at a time when being alone is felt most of all,” said Capt. Steele.

© 2003 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.

3 comments on “2003 Ottawa Citizen Article (Darren Steele)

  • I was part of Christmas Smiles for Seniors from the beginning with Darren. Our family was posted out in 2005 and Darren died tragically not long after. I know Dannette, Stacey, France and others kept it going and expanded it but I have always wondered what has happened over the past 10 years.

    • After the unfortunate loss of Darren, Danette and Stacey decided to keep the program going, in his memory and for the lovely seniors in our community. Danette has since “retired” from her position with us. But Stacey is still the driving force making sure Christmas Smiles for Seniors is a success year after year!

      Thanks so much for your comment – it’s so nice to hear from people who remember Darren.
      Wishing you and your family all the best the season has to offer!

  • I worked with Darren at D Air PA (Air Force Public Affairs in Ottawa at NDHQ) and loved him dearly, especially his Christmas Smiles for Seniors program. He used to walk to work in the morning and would pass by some seniors homes, wondering at Christmas if there were any lonely seniors inside who had no one to give them gifts. There was so much focus on children, Darren felt, that lonely seniors might be forgotten. He stopped into one of the homes one day and sure enough he discovered that there were many seniors who had either been forgotten or abandoned by their families or they simply had no living relatives left. And so the Christmas Smiles for Seniors Program began.

    It has grown over the years to helping thousands of lonely seniors in hundreds of homes, thanks to the generosity of people all across the city, including many who still donate their time and resources in the Canadian Armed Forces.

    Without the efforts of Stacey and Dannette, who kept the program going while Darren was deployed to Afghanistan, and who took it over after Darren passed away, I suspect the program would have died along with him. But they stayed true to his vision and kept it going, their homes and vehicles piled high to the ceiling with gifts.

    I think Stacey coordinates the program by herself now, with scads of help from elves throughout the city. I admire her for sticking it out after all these years. I recently spoke to Darren’s former wife, Peggy, over Facebook and she said she was delighted to hear the program is still going.

    We were all devastated to lose Darren; he was such a teddy bear. A big guy with a big heart. Not enough people know the story behind the program; perhaps they will if more media do stories.

    We love you and miss you, Darren.

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