Nearly all coronavirus-related deaths in Mecklenburg County have been among adults 60 years and older. Long-term care facilities are locked down to visitors and those who aren’t in a care facility are encouraged to stay home for months, or until there’s a vaccine.
Unlike in any other crisis, we can’t comfort and connect with one of the city’s most vulnerable groups. But there are some safe ways to lift up seniors during the pandemic.
Thirteen of the county’s assisted living facilities have reported outbreaks. More than half of the county’s COVID-related deaths are among people connected to these facilities.
I’ve seen the heartbreak these deaths cause first-hand.
Starling “Jimmy” Hopkins, a World War II veteran, husband, father of eight, and my granddad, was diagnosed with coronavirus on his 96th birthday, April 1. He passed away three weeks later.
As my family, and specifically my dad, his youngest child, reflect on the great life he lived, we’re thinking a lot about the letters he wrote. He and my grandmother exchanged multiple letters each month while he was stationed in Italy back in 1944. Rereading those sweet notes serves as a reminder that the love felt from small gestures can be powerful enough to live on even after you’re gone.
So now, in the midst of a global crisis, let’s take pride in serving others, especially our seniors who have already served us.
Here are five ways to help:
(1) Write a letter.
One way to support local seniors is by writing a letter or card. You don’t have to know anyone personally for these letters and positive notes to make an impact.
My grandparents loved a phone call but handwritten letters seemed to mean even more. There’s something about putting pen to paper.
Multiple organizations, including Friendship Trays and Elevation Church, are organizing virtual card-making campaigns for seniors. All you need to participate is a pen, paper, and postage to brighten someone’s day.
Other senior living centers are accepting cards as well. If you have a specific facility in mind, give them a call and let them know you want to send a batch of cards and letters. Most will be more than happy to accept.
(2) Volunteer or donate.
Charlotte Village Network connects volunteers with older adults to help perform simple tasks that have become difficult or unnecessarily time consuming.
The network is accepting donations and volunteers. You can also refer an older adult in your life who may benefit from the program.
(3) Support disabled and/or aging veterans.
Purple Heart Homes is accepting letters of encouragement for veterans and donations.
Purchasing the organization’s book Wounded Homecoming: The Uphill Journey of Wounded Veterans from Battlefield to Homefront, through Amazon Smile helps fund home ownership and home renovation projects for veterans.
You can also support places like Richard’s Coffee Shop in Mooresville, one of the region’s most popular place for vets to gather.
(4) Participate in a parade or a “drive by” visit.
Nursing homes around the country have started these events as a way to safely connect residents with the outside world.
This nursing home parade in Salisbury is an example. Residents lined up outside the home and spoke to their loved ones face to face, from a safe distance, for the first time in weeks. Many of the family and friends who participated decorated their cars with posters, balloons, and streamers. Most drove away with tear-streaked cheeks after the emotional reunions.
Some of the parades work just like the one in Salisbury, others focus more on brightly decorated floats and are similar to traditional parades where everyone keeps moving.
Most senior living facilities post about planned parades on their Facebook pages. But you can also give individual facilities a call to learn more about when and where they’re planning the next event.
(5) Be a good neighbor.
Lastly, look out for your neighbors during this time, especially those who may be at higher risk due to age. Offer to cut someone’s grass or drop off groceries. Or just say hello from six feet away.
There are multiple examples of Charlotteans looking out for their elderly neighbors. Many of them are delivering groceries and running errands for people who would be in danger if they had to do it themselves.
And who knows, maybe doing something nice for others will uplift you too.