This year has been difficult for everyone, but it has been especially hard for older members of our community. Being particularly vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19, many seniors have found themselves staying home for much of the year to minimize their risk of illness.
“This season has been very difficult on these seniors [and] most have truly been isolated for nine months now,” says Terra Bieneman, the Lowell Senior Neighbors coordinator.
Throughout this time, Bieneman has worked to find ways to creatively engage seniors and stave off loneliness. About 20 residents join her for phone bingo games three times a week, and every Thursday, Bieneman hosts a call in which she plays music by request. Senior Neighbors also sends out monthly newsletters to 60 people, and these include word searches, word scrambles, adult coloring pages and more.
Now that it’s the holiday season, Bieneman wanted to do something special for Lowell seniors so she arranged for a drive-through event with Santa and Mrs. Claus last week.
About 15 people drove through the event to say hi to the man in red and collect a gift bag. Then Santa and Mrs. Claus delivered gifts to another nine seniors who couldn’t make the drive, and Bieneman made stops to five additional residents.
Green Acres of Lowell and Laurels of Kent donated gift bags to hand out to seniors, and a resident at Green Acres decorated their bags as a special touch. Lowell Senior Neighbors also had some goodies from Grand Rapids Rotary to pass out. The club normally holds a Rotary Luncheon for area senior centers and hands out gift bags and Meijer gift cards to participants. While the luncheon was cancelled, the gift bags were not, and Lowell Senior Neighbors received about two dozen bags to hand out to its members.
Of course, Santa’s appearance is guaranteed to attract attention, and the Lowell Police Department stopped by to say hi as well.
While Bieneman would love nothing more than to hold a traditional Christmas gathering for Lowell seniors, she is grateful to be able to connect with residents safely over the phone and via events such as this one. Nothing about this year has been ideal, but Bieneman says everyone is making the best of it. “Isolation has been very hard on [our seniors], but they’ve also been through a lot in their lives and seem pretty resilient as well,” she says.
All photos courtesy of Terra Bieneman