A Whitney Pier woman is looking for families willing to add an extra chair to their table for Christmas dinner this year.
Melinda Patton was heartbroken reading a story in the Cape Breton Post about two lonely seniors preparing to spend another Christmas alone, last December.
“I felt a need to do something,” she said.
Patton wanted to get involved but then was overjoyed reading follow up stories in the Post on the incredible response from the public. However, then came the thoughts of the other seniors out there eating Christmas dinner alone.
“I couldn’t shake that image,” she said.
As a result, Patton vowed to make a difference this year and now is working on a project to match up seniors who will be alone Christmas day with host families for Christmas dinner.
Patton grew up in a military family in Whitney Pier and was a financial clerk reservist with the military for three years. She lived a military lifestyle with her late first husband that included predominately living in Nova Scotia. In 2016 she retired from her career as an elementary school secretary which included in Annapolis Valley as well as out west. In 2014 her father – the late Joe Cambridge – passed away. Two years ago Patton, and her current husband Vincent Patton, originally of Detroit and Master Chief Petty officer of the U.S. Coast Guard now retired, moved to Cape Breton to take care of her mother, Cindy Cambridge, affectionally nicknamed by many in the community as "the mayor."
Although happy to be back on the island, Patton has always been involved in her community in some way – from coordinating a running club to coaching ball — and wanted to get back into it.
“Cape Breton is home for me,” she said. “I’ve always been a humanitarian person who always wants to give but being home is making me all the more passionate for that.”
Patton is asking any seniors who will be alone at Christmas, as well as people willing to be a host a senior for Christmas dinner, to contact her. Anyone knowing a lonely senior at Christmas is also asked to contact her with that information.
“I want to hear from anyone who thinks this is a good idea and is willing to participate,” she said.
Patton can be reached at 902-270-2877 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s hoped this will become an annual project and possibly be expanded next year to include international students unable to go home for Christmas, she said.
“I would love to work on setting up a multicultural Christmas dinner for 2020.”
THE SALVATION ARMY
The lonely seniors the Post featured last Christmas included Judy James of Sydney preparing to spend Christmas with her cat and Clyde Harvey of North Sydney, alone Christmas day the last 16 years.
Alaina MacKenzie, manager of the Salvation Army’s thrift store in North Sydney and community and family services worker, said they knew Harvey well and assisted in delivering gifts and cards dropped up for him, to him.
MacKenzie said the attention changed everything for Harvey last Christmas, it lifted his spirits.
“He got to enjoy it,” she said. “He got multiple letters and Christmas cards from all over.”
Sadly Harvey, 67, died Sept. 4 at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Palliative Care unit in Sydney, after battling lung cancer the past several years.
MacKenzie said there are so many lonely seniors and Christmas day would certainly be extra hard for them.
“I’m sure it makes them long for the time in their past when they weren’t alone,” she said.
Being surrounded by family, she said you find peace with the world as all is well. When you’re alone such a special day you dwell on what you don’t have.
Feeling Patton’s project could reach a lot of people, MacKenzie said a good place to start is a food bank as a lot of the clients are single and alone.
People can also look for a lonely senior that might live near them, invite them for supper sometime or even drop them off a plate.
“Sometimes though it’s not as much about the food as it is the company.”
THE SYDNEY MINES SENIORS AND PENSIONERS CLUB
Kay Skinner, treasurer with the Sydney Mines Seniors and Pensioners Club, said they have more than 200 members, 48-50 are lifetime members which means they are age 80 or over.
Skinner, a 20-year member, said many of their members come to socialize because they are alone and are lonely. The club puts on socials and luncheons and are getting ready to start crafts.
“Seniors come out to enjoy these things because a lot of them are by themselves, they don’t have any family.”
When a lonely senior walks into their club, she said it’s a wonderful feeling to suddenly see them mingling and talking with other seniors.
“Seeing them laughing and lifting up is a big joy right there.”
The club has many members who are alone at Christmas and ones with families who might consider hosting a senior at Christmas, so Skinner plans to bring this project up to their members.