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Committee delivering cheer to area nursing home residents

When Vicki Anderson heard about residents of nursing homes who were confined to their rooms for weeks at a time during the coronavirus pandemic, she sprang into action with members of the Lawrence + Memorial Auxiliary's Community Outreach Committee.

The nursing home residents, vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19 due to their age or health conditions, had to be protected from the virus, but also needed to be protected from the extreme effects of isolation.

"When a disaster happens, people have it in them to want to make the situation better," Anderson, of Uncasville, chair of the outreach committee, said by phone. "They can't fix it, but they want to make it better."

She knows how to organize helpers, having served as the executive director of the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center before retiring in 2017.

The Community Outreach Committee forged relationships with social workers at four area nursing homes, and for the past several months, has been delivering personalized birthday cards, gift-wrapped chocolates, adult coloring books, large-print crossword puzzle and Sudoku books, stuffed animals and other goodies.

One of the helpers started making bags that attach to the front of walkers. Another makes cozy lap quilts. Anderson contacted Munson's Chocolates in Bolton and arranged to have the auxiliary's elm tree logo printed on wrapping paper for chocolate bars delivered with the birthday cards.

The effort started with Beechwood and Harbor Village facilities in New London and expanded to the Greentree Manor and New London Rehab & Care homes in Waterford.

Each month, the social workers provide the names of the residents who have birthdays, and Anderson and Patti Rodgers-Longo of Groton write out the cards. More recently, they started a pen pal effort, mailing cards and handwritten notes, with "the prettiest and brightest stamps" the post office had to offer. Anderson created a spread sheet to keep track of the recipients' names.

When they receive a letter or package, the residents' faces light up, said Maribeth Scahill, director of social services at Harbor Village.

"We just gave one to a gentleman who has no family," Scahill said by phone. "It said, 'The Hospital Auxiliary is thinking of you. What would you like?' He loved reading the note and said, 'I would love a new coloring book.' He loves to draw and color. I called Vicki, and boom, within a week he had it."

A Day photographer was on hand this past Thursday, when Anderson delivered a care package to Harbor Village. It's become a ritual for her to drive up to the facility, call to let the staff know she's there, and give the items to a social worker or receptionist.

"We can't shake hands. We have to keep our distance. But I see them," Anderson said.

Anderson said she hopes schools, or others, are encouraged to do something to show they're thinking of nursing home residents, some of whom are in their final home and others who are staying there to recover after being released from the hospital. People can live into their 90s and beyond as long as they have enough nutrition, exercise and positive social interaction.

"The nursing homes I've seen here, and have been talking to, I think they're doing a fantastic job of keeping the spirits up of the folks," she said. "I see them caring very much about these people."

Rodgers-Longo, retired from her job as a loan officer at the Chelsea Groton bank, said the project started off with birthday cards and chocolate bars, then grew and evolved as people heard about it and donated items.  

"Somebody could get a walker bag, a puzzle, a marker, maybe some playing cards, tissue paper and lip balm," she said. "Now when they can't see friends and loved ones, it's a little something special to let them know they're being thought of."


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