Residents at Phoenix Assisted Care in Cary, a facility in the Victorian Senior Care network, have spent the last three months in strict quarantine, permitted to glimpse their loved ones only through closed windows.
But after the North Carolina nursing-home network posted a call for pen pals on Facebook last Wednesday, the isolated seniors now enjoy the company of thousands.
Donna Horton, an administrator at Phoenix Assisted Care, estimates that over the course of one week, the facility has received around 6,000 letters and hundreds of packages from all over the globe, thanks to the viral post.
“But it all started just on a whim,” Horton told the INDY.
In pictures, residents sat in their wheelchairs, holding up handwritten signs that specified what they were looking for in a pen pal. Some asked for pen pals with shared interests: Otis was looking for Scrabble players, Gretha wanted to bond with chocolate lovers, and Bill was in search of soccer fans. Others requested pen pals from particular regions that were meaningful to them, from Williamston to Puerto Rico.
Within a week, the post garnered 325,000 shares, 16,000 comments, and an appearance on Good Morning America.
On Monday alone, Horton says, Phoenix Assisted Care received 13 full boxes of letters from the post office, along with six boxes of packages. Flower deliveries arrive every day, some from as far away as Australia. Staff have put up a world map in the home and are dotting it with pushpins to show the residents the scope of where their pen pals live.
“It’s like Christmas,” Horton says. “You know, there’s really no way to explain the joy of giving them letters, packages, flowers, cookies, candy, coloring books. It’s phenomenal.”
A video uploaded to the Facebook page on Monday shows a resident named “Ms. Linda” sifting through her letters as a staff member tells her they’re from all of her pen pals.
“Oh my lordy!” she exclaims. “Oh my Jesus! It is a blessing! Thank you so much everybody! This is awesome!”
There’s also been some epistolary help offered to make sure that residents have the resources to write back. One man from New York donated more than 100 stamps. Others have sent cards and envelopes. Some of the residents are unable to write, so they dictate to Horton and sign it themselves.
While the Cary nursing home has received no shortage of attention, Horton says that there are plenty of other seniors across the state in need of some attention. The Victorian Senior Care network has 14 other communities in North Carolina, including some in rural areas like Pink Hill and Edenton.
The Victorian Senior Care Facebook page introduces residents from across the state and provides instructions for sending mail to them. Uncharacteristically for Facebook, the comment sections have been heartwarming. Perhaps the best part is the photos of residents receiving their mail.
“It’s amazing with what’s going on in the world right now—that this is a good thing,” Horton says. “It’s making my seniors smile.”
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