Displayed are hundreds of Christmas cards that will be sent to seniors who are isolated this Christmas season. Photo courtesy Don Hall

Spreading cheer, one Christmas card at a time

By  Luke Mandato, Catholic Register Special
  • December 20, 2023

With the Christmas season now in full effect, it’s important to note that the holiday can often be looked at with a certain degree of ambivalence. For most, it’s a time of celebration and reverence amplified by the presence of loved ones. But for others, it can be a very emotionally challenging and lonely time of year.

Yet one student at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton, Ont., strives to ensure that Christmas compassion is reaching those who need it most.

The St. Mary’s Christmas card initiative was founded by Stephanie Hrynkiw when she entered Grade 9 in 2020. After seeing a poster in the hallways about volunteering at St. Joseph’s Villa, the long-term care home her grandmother was residing at, she reached out to Don Hall, the school’s chaplaincy leader, on how to get involved.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, volunteering at the home was halted. Not to be discouraged, and with Christmas around the corner, Hrynkiw came up with the idea to make and send custom Christmas cards to the Villa as a show of solidarity and kindness.

“Seniors dealing with isolation was a huge topic over the pandemic because a lot of them couldn’t see their families,” said Hrynkiw. “I thought we could write Christmas letters and cards to donate to them, that way they’ll have a little bit of joy and spark some happiness during the holiday season.”

What was initially slated to be nothing more than an individual show of charity turned into a school-wide initiative, with the tradition not only continuing but having grown over the past four years.

The first year of the initiative saw over 500 hand-crafted artistic cards made by students donated to St. Joseph’s, a benchmark that has been surpassed each year and shows no sign of slowing down, with the chaplain’s office having already received more than 500 cards with weeks to spare.

One student at St. Mary’s is even writing 100 different Christmas letters to the elderly residents at the home this year.

Even as the founder and organizer of the initiative, Hrynkiw gives a lot of praise to Hall, who she says is always open to hearing ideas about new initiatives and new projects. Hall reciprocates the commendation, referring to Hrynkiw as a true salt of the earth Catholic student leader.

“She initiated this St. Mary’s tradition and has single-handedly brought it to new heights annually,” said Hall.

The feedback from St. Joseph’s Villa has been outstandingly positive over the four years, with many seniors expressing their gratitude for the letters. Don Davidson, president & CEO of St. Joseph’s Villa Foundation, says he can’t thank Hrynkiw and her team enough for the joy they bring to so many during the Christmas season.

“Everyone deserves to have a little bit of happiness and joy in their life, even if it’s just a piece of paper that says Merry Christmas, someone’s thinking about you and even if you don’t know them, they care about you,” said Hrynkiw. “Even though it might seem like a little thing to these people that might not have anything else, it just brings a little bit of extra happiness to their day.”

Now in her final year, the senior says the pride she feels for the St. Mary’s community often leaves her speechless. She hopes the Christmas card initiative continues after she graduates and thanks to the true nature of the school, which houses multiple other charitable initiatives, the cause looks to remain in good hands.

As for what’s next for Hrynkiw, shesl hoping to get accepted into the nursing program at Western University in hopes of kickstarting her goal of becoming a pediatric surgeon, just one more way that she is looking to help people however she can.

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