SYDNEY, N.S. -- A program in Cape Breton that plays Santa for seniors is doing things a bit differently this year.

Sydney, N.S., residents may notice paper bulbs covering Christmas trees at local businesses across the region.

Each bulb represents a little added Christmas cheer for seniors who may be in need.

“We take paper Christmas bulbs and hang them on trees in the business premises of many of our partners, and ask people to buy the gift that’s on this gift card,” explains Ian McNeil, community engagement co-ordinator at Home Instead Senior Care.

It’s the fourth year for the Be a Santa to a Senior program at Sydney’s Home Instead Senior Care.

In the past, the seniors would receive material gifts, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are going with gift cards this year.

“Craft stores, book stores, sporting good stores, men’s and women’s clothing, grocery stores, gas stations, heating oil companies. These are the needs that seniors have told us that they have,” says McNeil.

“It’s the time of giving as much as we can to the community,” says Kathleen MacDonald, co-owner of Freshii Sydney. 

This year that giving is going both ways, as the gift cards are all for local businesses, some of which are struggling during the pandemic.

“Anything that anyone can do to shop local this Christmas, please do,” asks MacDonald. “It will make times a lot easier.”

McNeil says loneliness during the holidays is something senior homes see every year, but he expects this year will be worse.

Many clients have loved ones outside the Atlantic bubble who won’t be coming home for the holidays this year.

“Buying that gift this year will have added meaning for many of the seniors,” says McNeil.

But gifts aren’t the only presents that could make a senior’s Christmas wish come true.

The program is also partnering with a class at Whitney Pier Memorial Middle School to make Christmas cards for people living up in long-term care facilities.

“It reminds them that they are being thought about,” says McNeil.

A way of giving so that seniors and local businesses can benefit this Christmas season, in what has already been a tough year for both.