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Sometimes, a handwritten letter can make all the difference.

That’s what Maria Mellor thought when she wrote up 70 lovely cards and mailed them to senior participants of our St. Martin de Porres Senior Center who’ve been home since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Maria is St. Martin’s activities and food service assistant and volunteer coordinator.

Maria’s card included a special offer. Would the recipient be interested in a special activity kit delivery?

Thirty-six participants have taken Maria up on the offer so far. Maria, program director Anne Coyne and Thomas Jarrett, an Alexandria senior services bus driver, delivered the kits over the last two weeks.

The activities kits included puzzles, word searches, coloring books, personal care items such as hand sanitizer, back scratchers, shoe horns, soap, chap stick, and stress relief balls.

Maria decided to include in the kits something she treasured and thought the seniors would, too: three of her grandmother’s favorite recipes.

“A lot of them just need something to break the isolation,” Maria says. “Even coming to the door and getting the bags just helped break the sadness.”

“They really appreciated it,” Anne says. “They’ve been calling.”

When we closed the center on March 18, our staff knew senior participants would miss coming into the center on Taney Avenue in Alexandria. And we knew we’d miss them!

As news of the growing public health crisis spread, many of our elderly friends decided to stay home. Program Director Anne Coyne and her staff began the process of preparing for the likelihood that the center, which we run in partnership with the City of Alexandria, would close.

For three days prior to the center closing, St. Martin’s staff sent home with senior participants boxes of shelf-stable food to use during the time when safe-distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders meant that getting their daily lunch at the center would not be possible.

Since the closure, our staff has been reaching out through regular telephone and safe-distance check ins with many senior participants, especially those who are most vulnerable.

“We encourage their independence by signing them up for a weekly grocery shopping trip,” says Anne. But if the seniors can’t get out, “we go shopping for them – if they have something specific they need.”

Each week, five to 10 St. Martin’s seniors take the city of City of Alexandria’s Department of Aging Services bus to the grocery store, practicing safe distancing.

And, she said, St. Martin’s worked with our St. Lucy Food pantry at Christ House to deliver food to some of the most vulnerable seniors.

This week St. Martin’s staff began another kind of delivery: handmade masks donated by a group of volunteer seamstresses that included Bishop O’Connell school nurse Bernadette Berset, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Vienna.