Editor's Note: This article was written in response to a reader-submitted question. To submit a question to our newsroom, see Open Source.
ASHLAND -- The coronavirus pandemic has caused just about everyone’s life to change.
Masks are required in public, social distancing is being enforced and the rising case numbers discouarge family and friends from visiting for a while.
One group in particular that has been at the forefront of many people's minds throughout the entirety of the pandemic is senior citizens.
Earlier this month, an Ashland Source reader used Open Source to ask, “How are our Senior Citizens getting along during these tough times. So much isolation, no families, no money, etc?”
The answer to that will vary from person to person, but there is definitely a sense of loss and uncertainty among seniors, said Denise Conrad, program coordinator at Catholic Charities.
“The overall permeating mentality is that this is not the world that we know, and we want it to be the way that it was,” Conrad said. “The world is different and it’s a sense of loss for all of us.
"For a lot of older folks especially, that time with family and celebrating their traditions and the things they hold close are gone.”
Diane Switzer, special projects coordinator at the Mental Health and Recovery Board, also emphasized how the constraints of the pandemic have caused great distress for many.
“Everybody handles it so differently,” Switzer said. “I’ve seen older folks that are lonely and suffering.
"My own mother in law just passed last week and she was in assisted living and it was so hard because we weren’t able to see her much. It was hard that whole time and it definitely wore on her.”
Before the pandemic, Conrad was involved with Golden Center, a program organized by Catholic Charities that was free for seniors to meet weekly and partake in social and recreational activities together.
It gave them a chance to be in touch with other seniors in the area and provided them with a reason to get out of the house.
Once everything started shutting down, Golden Center had to cancel its forthcoming meetings which was a great disappointment to those who were involved in it.
While the program did have to be temporarily halted, it ultimately ended up being a catalyst for a partnership between Catholic Charities and the Mental Health and Recovery Board to create “staying safe boxes” that would be distributed to senior citizens around the community.
The staying safe boxes were designed in an effort to encourage seniors to stay home and in turn, they could receive various items that had been donated from individuals and businesses in the community.
“I think it’s easy to sit in your house by yourself all day and go, nobody remembers me or I’m not important,” Conrad said. “So the goal of the boxes was so people would know that they weren’t forgotten and it was a link to the outside world.”
The first round of 100 boxes that previously went out had items such as masks, hand sanitizer, coloring books, homemade afghans from Salvation Army, books and information cards for all of the agencies that donated.
After such an overwhelming response to the first round, there will be a second round of 200 boxes being sent out during the week of Dec. 7. This round will include some more festive items for the holidays including mini tabletop christmas trees, a christmas memory book, homemade christmas cards, and cookies donated from AU students.
Going into this project, both Conrad and Switzer didn’t realize how well received it would become and both are grateful to the members of the community who have donated items for the boxes over the last few weeks.
“That’s the goal is we take care of each other ultimately,” Conrad said. “We’re looking out for people and trying to make a difference however that looks in this time and place.”
In an effort to help senior citizens feel joy in these difficult times, the staying safe boxes serve as a gesture from the community to show their appreciation for those who may be struggling.
“I feel like they’re gonna realize that the community that they live in is very caring,” Switzer said. “When the need exists we take care of each other and I think that’s a message that a lot of these people will be getting.”