A survey in mid-2020 found that 56 percent of people over 50 said they “often” felt isolated from others. This is more than double the 27 percent of respondents answering the same question in 2018. Two sisters are tackling this sense of isolation head-on. So keep reading…
To get a feel for the empathetic vibe of their project, let’s open with three of the many FAQs on the “Letters Against Isolation” website:
“Do letters have to be handwritten?”
Please try not to type or photocopy any letters. Our seniors really do appreciate receiving handwritten letters. However, if it is painful for you to handwrite, we totally understand! You are welcome to type your letters and print them out.
“Should I decorate my letter?’
Yes! Make it bright and exciting! Write a pun or make it a sea of color!
“What should I write about?”
Make your letter cheerful and creative! Remember, we are trying to brighten the days of our senior recipients.
Are you in love yet with this project? Are you digging out your favorite (but underused) pen and stationery? If so, you’d be joining about 8,000 volunteers who have already written letters to thousands of seniors who have become more isolated and alone thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2018, about 28 percent of older adults reported their interactions with friends to be “infrequent.” Today, that number is 46 percent.
Letters Against Isolation was created by two sisters in 2020. Shreya Patel is a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis. Her sister Saffron is in the 11th grade at Buckingham Browne and Nichols school in Cambridge. Both of them list “serving my community” as a life goal. The current global health crisis gave them an urgent opportunity to put that passion into action.
It began with the sisters pledging daily phone calls and check-ins with their self-isolating grandparents. From there, Saffron and Shreya felt compelled to expand their efforts — and include many, many more people.
“During stay-at-home, a lot of people wanted to help and a lot of people wanted to do something for the community, but they just didn’t know how,” Shreya told Channel 7 News in Boston. “And so we offered something that meant people could do something good for the community. They could help each other and they could connect with other people.”
While COVID-19 has proven to be most dangerous to the elderly, there is far more than a virus to consider when assessing the lockdown’s fallout. Seniors living more isolated lives are at far greater risk of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, substance abuse, stress-induced illness, and suicidal ideation.
Here’s how the sisters pitch the project to prospective volunteers: “If you decide to get involved, every other week, we will send you a spreadsheet where you can sign up to send letters to any of the care homes that we serve. You’ve got the fun job of writing as many letters as you would like to! You can write about whatever you would like, but remember that these letters will be brightening days; try to make them cheerful, and be creative! Do not include your address, phone number or anything else that would identify yourself and do not send gifts. We ask that all letters are sent in physical form (not via email) to the seniors, since there is something very special about receiving something in the mail!”
Things escalated quickly, as in, more than 80,000 letters written to date! The impact, however, cannot be measured by mere numbers. “One senior said that it just reminded them that there were other people still alive in the world right now,” Saffron explained. “It’s been really amazing to see how many people are willing to take time out of their day to bring joy to seniors.”
The project remains in full effect and continues to grow. To get involved, here are five ways to connect with Letters Against Isolation:
Letters Against Isolation: website
Facebook Group: Letters Against Isolation
Youtube: Letters Against Isolation