By JAYSON DIMAANO
Feeling isolated is one of the challenges many are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. People have been finding ways to connect from a distance online, but for some seniors that is not a workable option.
Which is why Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith came up with a way to connect local school students and seniors together through an initiative called Letters of Love.
“This has been an impossibly difficult year for too many seniors across our country, and I just want to recognize the efforts of our local teachers and especially of those young students in bringing some joy to these otherwise difficult times,” Erskine-Smith told Beach Metro News.
Marietta Fox, from Erskine-Smith’s office, said “the goal of the Letters of Love project is to help seniors feel more connected to the community, while getting students to not only practice their letter writing skills but give them a platform to express empathy and share life as we know it through their eyes.”
While the Letters of Love campaign was only for Valentine’s Day, Fox said it’s hard to not continue it.
“It was an absolute joy to work with teachers, care facilities and organizations to coordinate the project that got letters in hands. I can only imagine how a second round would be appreciated and welcomed.”
More than 700 letters were written by students from Secord Elementary School, Adam Beck Junior Public School, Crescent Town Elementary School, Kimberley Junior Public School, Kew Park Montessori School, St Brigid Catholic School, Gordon A. Brown Middle School, Victoria Park Public School, George Webster Elementary School, Earl Beatty Junior and Senior Public School, Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School, local homeschooled students, Cosburn Middle School and Presteign Heights Elementary School.
Seniors from Main Street Terrace, True Davidson Acres, CC55 (almost 400 seniors living independently at home), The Neighborhood Group (more than 100 seniors living independently at home), Harmony Hall Centre for Seniors and Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church all received letters from the students.
“At the time, we were teaching virtually at home. It was a really nice opportunity for students to connect with people outside of their homes,” said Yun Cheng, a Grade 4 teacher at Secord Elementary School.
“The facility (Main Street Terrace) is at Main and Gerrard and we’re at Main and Danforth. It’s nice because it’s not completely foreign (to the students) and it’s not in a completely different part of the city. It is a part of their community.”
Cheng said Fox contacted her about the initiative and she was more than happy to join in as they worked together before on social justice issues.
Students wrote the letters before Valentine’s Day, while school was still taking place virtually.
“It was really nice for them to connect and to talk about themselves. Their letters were predominantly about things they like to do, how they keep busy, and telling someone to feel better,” said Cheng.
“Them understanding how their role was going to help someone and put a smile on someone else’s face was really nice for them. My kids are really excited. Their goal was to write something to brighten someone’s day.”
Cheng said if they had been able to, the students would have liked to personally deliver the letters. Some students even included some artwork and drawings with the letters they created.
All the students had the chance to write to the senior of their choice, including Grade 4 student Ayesha.
“I was introducing me and just saying ‘how are they?’” said Ayesha. “I told them I am at Secord learning right now and I am nine.”
Ayesha wrote two letters. She said she loved writing about her hobbies, which includes drawing and playing basketball. She also drew pictures of a star and a heart for one resident, while drawing a flower and a rainbow for another resident.
“I feel like this is important because with the coronavirus, no one can actually meet them. I feel like a letter is the best way to communicate with them,” she added.
Patti Kirke, a resident at Main Street Terrace said she received a few letters from the students, which put a smile on her face and made her happy.
“The letters were basically about themselves,” said Kirke. “It wasn’t a long letter, but he asked me questions (How are you? Do I like pets? Do I like sports?) It makes you laugh. I had a little girl tell me “Don’t worry, you’re not in this alone.””
Kirke said the other residents also loved receiving the letters.
Prior to the pandemic, there would be lots of visitors to the facility, including Kirke’s family. Since then, she has been communicating with them on the phone.
“I do it by phone and email. Other people do video calls. We just all do what we can do,” she said. “I would say it’s (Letters of Love initiative) very important. The residents love communication. They can’t see their grandchildren. I remember when I was little, my grandmother meant the world to me. When they (the kids) see a resident, they think of their grandparents. It’s that connection, they’re so kind to the residents and it’s very touching.”
If this initiative does continue, it is something Kirke said she would look forward to participating in again.
“Sometimes they make me cry, sometimes they make me laugh. The kids are good, everybody loves them. They’re like little pen pals. I wish I had the writing skills to write back to all of them.”