About 10 years ago, Joan Syratt and her daughter, Valerie Luttrell, put together some gifts for seniors in long-term care and that was the beginning of the Grandparent Connection.
The group works to provide seniors in the community with gifts to help make them feel loved and appreciated.
Then when Syratt, who was a knitter and had a passion for collecting and cleaning up old dolls, had nowhere to go when the craft show she attended as Joan’s Dolls changed, it began a journey for the mother and daughter that they never saw coming.
After trying in vain to find another craft show for the dolls booth, Syratt and Luttrell finally decided they had no other option but to start the Old Fashioned Christmas Craft Show in Newmarket.
“I started the show for her,” said Luttrell.
Entering its eighth season since launching in 2014, the Old Fashioned Christmas Craft Show collects donations for seniors. Initially, it was for the Stockings for Seniors program where they would give gifts to seniors in the community around the holidays.
“It all basically exists because of my mum,” said Luttrell. “We wanted to help seniors who didn’t necessarily have anyone through the Grandparent Connection."
The program has now shifted to birthday bags to provide gifts to seniors on their birthdays to make them feel special. The shift came because Luttrell said they noticed how much support there was for seniors around the holidays, so the Grandparent Connection wanted to fill a gap and help spread the love year-round.
Luttrell said it’s so important to step up and make seniors feel socially connected and not isolated and alone, even when they don’t have family or friends to do so, and that’s something Syratt was so passionate about.
“She was so supportive of it,” Luttrell said. “She was a functioning senior and she always wanted to support other seniors. She was completely behind it in any way she could help.”
In November last year, Syratt passed away at 99, just two weeks before the seventh annual show. Luttrell said her mother was all ready for the show and looking forward to it.
“We were all kind of numb last year,” she said. “Our family decided to still do her booth and all of the money raised from her sale went to the birthday bag program.”
Luttrell said that running the Joan’s Dolls booth was the highlight of her mother's year and she just loved doing it.
“Right when you walked in, she was the first one you saw, she was right at the front,” she said. “It brought her and other people such joy, and I want to keep giving that joy.”
After selling all of Syratt’s inventory of dolls last year, this year will be the first time the Joan’s Dolls booth isn’t at the show and Luttrell said it’s going to be tough for everyone.
“It will be surreal,” she said. “I’m sure there will be smiles through tears. It’s going to be so strange not having her there when it was all for her in the first place.”
Even without the Joan’s Dolls booth, Luttrell feels like this is a way to carry on her mother’s legacy.
“In my mind, it is, and always will be, her show,” she said. “Everyone who is a part of it is so caring and loved her, and it’s amazing how big it has gotten.”
Eight years in, the craft show has grown so much to the point Luttrell almost can’t believe it. This year there will be more than 70 local crafters and artisans.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It blows my mind and I honestly wish we had a bigger venue because I have such a waiting list every year.”
There’s about 20 vendors who have been with the show since the beginning, and now there’s so many that they fill the entire Newmarket Community Centre, Luttrell said.
They have people coming from all over the province for the show and they even had a few come up from the U.S., she added.
As the show continues to grow, Luttrell hopes the Grandparent Connection can grow alongside it. She’s hopeful that next year they can begin funding other initiatives that focus on seniors to expand their positive reach in the community.
The eighth annual Old Fashioned Christmas Craft Show is Saturday, Dec. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Newmarket Community Centre, 200 Doug Duncan Dr. Learn more about the show and what is best to donate to the birthday bag program here.