Calling home for Christmas

On a Saturday morning before Christmas, Bertha Narbert was busily working the phones on Merrill Lynch’s trading floor in Toronto. Making some last minute deals before the Christmas holidays? Not at all – she was simply chatting with her nephews and nieces in Austria.

Narbert, along with almost 500 fellow seniors from Toronto, was taking advantage of Merrill Lynch’s 15th annual Christmas Calls Program, held on December 18. Each year at this time, seniors are able to telephone loved ones with Merrill Lynch footing the bill. Many of those who use the service otherwise couldn’t afford to stay in touch with friends and relations over the holidays – the Christmas Calls Program gives them that chance.

"We’re happy to help seniors with this service," said Peter Kahnert, Vice President of Corporate Communications. "And the people who use it are genuinely grateful for the benefit." Kahnert declined to estimate the size of Merrill Lynch’s phone bill but, considering the amount of people who showed up, the size of their lists and the countries they were calling, it was going to be a whopper. "We don’t even check it," laughed Kahnert, adding that the companfelt the service was well worth it.

Judging by the smile on Shiva Kale Kandansany’s face, she was extremely happy to take advantage of the service. As part of a group from Sistering nursing home in Toronto, Kandansany used the free telephone service to call friends in Pakistan and India. "I haven’t spoken to many of them for years," she said.

"It’s a wonderful Christmas gift," said Elaine Wright of Toronto, another participant. Accompanied by her grandson Dale, Wright extended Christmas wishes to friends and family in the Caribbean. Santa also dropped in for a visit, exchanging well wishes with the seniors. A group of Victorian carolers further added to the good cheer already ringing throughout the office.

Merrill Lynch employees also helped make the day successful, giving up their usual seats and helping seniors to dial long distance. Kahnert estimated that almost 2,000 people took advantage of the Christmas Calls Program across Canada.