Mother shares her family’s heartbreaking experience to provide a safe space for immunocompromised children to visit Santa
For the first time in Calgary, immunocompromised children can have their very own safe experiences sitting on the lap of a mall Santa and sharing their wishes for the holidays.
Calgary mother Heather Roy has been working with Southcentre Mall for the past year to make the shopping centre the first and only to offer the experience to families that have children with immunocompromised needs.
It’s all in memory of Roy’s daughter, Evelyn, who died of cancer at 11 years old in 2020.
“Our daughter was in treatment over two Christmases and we weren’t able to go to the mall safely and see Santa; she was just too immunocompromised for us to be there,” Roy explains, adding it was sad for the family.
“It was a tradition. Every year I took my girls to visit Santa for 14 years, but when Evelyn got sick, we weren’t able to carry on that tradition and we felt like we lost it, in a way.”
Creating a safe and inclusive Santa visit
That’s why Roy worked with Southcentre Mall to create a safe environment for immunocompromised children to have those special experiences.
“We wanted to help others in similar situations and make the holidays special for them, and Southcentre has done a really good job at providing that option. They were on board and have helped with the whole process,” Roy says.
Throughout November, families with immunocompromised needs can let the mall know ahead of time and extra precautions will be taken.
“They can have a masked or unmasked visit and because the visits aren’t operating during business hours so you don’t have the busyness of people and it’s located close to an entrance so you can easily and quickly scoot in and out,” Roy says, adding medical professionals were consulted during the process to ensure the utmost safety.
“Some of the other pieces of it that are great is that it is sanitized and cleaned between every visit, so you don’t have the risk of extra germs floating around. The mall staff have been very wonderful.”
Southcentre Mall was already offering designated times for children with sensory sensitivities and mobility issues to visit Santa during special Peace of Mind Sessions outside of mall hours.
Experiencing new and revived family traditions
This new inclusion makes the ever-important visit with Mr. Claus more accessible than ever for families, says Southcentre Mall marketing manager Alexandra Velosa.
“We believe in doing our part to make it possible for every family to experience the quintessential holiday tradition of visiting Santa,” Velosa adds.
It’s a bittersweet initiative for Roy, who takes solace in the fact that other families are experiencing their own holiday traditions in honour of her late daughter through the Team Evelyn Foundation.
“We are excited to be seeing those families going into the mall to see Santa in a way that they’ve never been able to do before. I think we’re building new traditions for families in our city and I’m just thrilled about it,” Roy says, adding she has received messages from grateful families.
“They’re excited because they’ve never been able to take their kids to see Santa at the mall before, or families that were like us and said they felt like they had lost this tradition of the holidays… there’s a lot of healing inside of those experiences.”