The COVID-19 pandemic is set to bring a particularly quiet Christmas, and seniors isolated in retirement homes are facing a particularly glum Dec. 25.
So Symphony Senior Living in Orleans, Ont., near Ottawa, came up with a solution, inviting people to become pen pals of its residents and send Christmas letters to brighten their season.
The idea came from Paul Griffith, activities co-ordinator at Symphony Senior Living.
“Paul had the idea because this year has been really hard on seniors, he wanted to try and get something that would be giving them some hope,” said Theleah Hayter, a team member at Symphony Senior Living and a Humber College paralegal graduate.
The Christmas Pen Pal event started with a post on Facebook, which went blew up overnight and reached more than 7,000 people.
“It’s absolutely insane,” Hayter said. “We’ve got people from Australia and New Zealand, so we’re sending over letters along with people from Newfoundland all the way to B.C.”
Tiffany Steadman-Collins is one of the many people who saw the event and sent letters to all 13 residents who were shared on the page.
“Sending the letters made me happy,” she said. “I was super excited, and I did it as soon as I saw the post. I won’t lie, I am really giddy to see if anyone writes back.”
Melanie Baron would usually spend her holiday going to senior care homes and singing Christmas carols to them. However, this year with COVID-19, that was not possible. Instead, she participated in Christmas Pen Pal to spread happiness and cheer.
“It’s a double-edged sword, I felt sad but at the same time, I also felt really happy that we were extending some holiday cheer to somebody and hopefully developing a friendship out of that,” Baron said.
She was not the only one in the family that sent Christmas letters to the seniors, her 10-year-old son Nathan wrote letters to all 13 residents.
“He had a great time doing it,” Baron said. “It made him happy to know that somebody would be receiving his letter for Christmas. It makes them feel like they’re not forgotten, and especially in times like this people are so lonely.
“You want to make people feel included and special, and know that somebody out there is thinking about them,” she said.
Symphony Senior Living received about 1,800 letters on the first week of Christmas Pen Pal, and since then the retirement home has received thousands more.
“We started doing announcements, just because of the amount of mail we received on the first day was crazy,” Hayter said. “We had no idea that this was going to happen at all, we were just expecting that we would get some letters from the community.
“We slowly started handing out the letters and even gifts we received, it’s awesome,” she said.
Every morning, the team members gather letters on their big table in the dining room, where all the ladies from the residents come and organize them.
“These residents are over the moon, they’re so excited to be able to chat with new people,” Hayter said.
Steadman-Collins said she’s sure the residents felt acknowledged and cared about, as “knowing that someone is thinking of you can brighten anyone’s day.
“I can not wait to see if I hear back,” she said. “Even if I don’t, it’s still is worth it, in the end, to make someone smile.”
Symphony Senior Living will be continuing its Pen Pal event throughout the year, so the seniors will be able to chat with people all around the world.
“It’s your own writing and your own personal thoughts, you can tell that they took the time for you,” Baron said. “The biggest blessing I think somebody can give is their time because that’s something you can never take back.”