The stack of 40 cards piled high on nine- and 13-year-old Everleigh and Nevaeh Lafontaine's table may look like just a pile of drawings, but it's more than that. It's a pile of cheer meant to brighten the hearts of seniors who may be feeling the loneliness of a COVID-19-affected holiday season.
"The idea was made by our mom because she decided that it would be a good idea to give the seniors cards that would make them feel happy and remembered and loved," Nevaeh said.
In a typical year, seniors homes would have been bustling this week as family members visited or picked up their loved ones for the holidays. School children's voices would ring through the halls with carols and crafts from grandchildren would decorate the walls.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes for seniors homes. Residents are unable to have visitors, or in some cases live away from their loved ones and cannot travel this year.
"It's important to give the cards to seniors because some seniors, or most seniors, are not able to spend Christmas with their families," Everleigh said. "Christmas is very special."
The College Park and College Park II long-term homes are quieter than usual this year as well. The seniors residences in Regina put out a call on social media asking for letters and Christmas cards.
They were soon overwhelmed by the response. College Park has received more than 7,000 and College Park II has received more than 2,000 so far.
"We're kind of in our little bubble here, and it's good to know how others are dealing with this pandemic, because it's not just us suffering," 82-year-old resident Estel Lebesque said. "We're all in it together and it's just nice to know that others out there care about us."
Lebesque said she's of an age where the written word is important and seeing her name handwritten builds connections.
"I feel close to that person already. It's somebody who took the time," she said. "We all need connection with others."
It's those feelings of joy and connections that Renee Nicurity was hoping to instill in her students. The École St. Mary teacher spearheaded a project that has seen every grade at the K-8 school create cards.
"We know that some of these seniors are going to be quite lonely this Christmas," Nicurity said. "We wanted to make sure that the kids understood how important it was to give back to the community."
Normally at this time of year, the students would go sing at seniors homes to brighten spirits. That wasn't possible with the pandemic, so cards and letters were a natural step.
The Grade 5 students practised their cursive writing and wrote letters, while the younger grades made special drawings, she said. The letters were sent throughout Regina and around Saskatchewan.
"Just to see that they haven't forgotten how important it is to give back is wonderful," she said. "We were always hoping that children will remember, not just to think of themselves, but to remember to think of others."
Gary Treble moved to College Park II in March after selling his home. The widower is a great-grandfather and one of the letter recipients. He said he had mixed feelings at first and didn't quite know what to write back.
"She said that she was looking forward to Christmas," he said. "I wanted you to believe in Christmas and what it stands for … the words in the Bible and being a good citizen."
Treble said he hopes the students continue writing to seniors and may be able to build on that connection in the future.
Dawn Visvanathan has received three Christmas cards so far and has them hung up in her suite to look at throughout the day.
"I just treasure the little cards that I got from the kids, that are so cute because they're handmade," she said. "It was really nice to be able to connect with the community in that sense, even during a time when it's hard to connect."
Visvanathan said it reminds the seniors that there are people who want to reach out and a community connection is still there, even through the pandemic.
"We're not alone. The community is out there," she said. "There will be the time when we can all come together again, when it's safe and I think that it is so important to always have that sense of hope."
There will be a time when they can gather again and the letters and cards serve as a little reminder that there is hope, Visvanathan said.
"It just brings a smile to your face. You can't help but be happy and for a few minutes, just forget about everything else that's happening and just be in that moment of interacting with another person by receiving letters."
For Everleigh and Nevaeh Lafontaine, this brought a little light to their Christmas after not being able to see their baba this Christmas.
It might be a new Christmas tradition, as both say they look forward to doing it again.
"It was important for the three of us to all chip in to put our different kinds of love into the cards and pictures," Everleigh said. "It felt really good and nice because we knew that those seniors that got the cards would be very happy."