Student effort offers lifeline to isolated seniors

Special to Western News

Stay in Touch has partnered with Meals on Wheels London who, along with regular food delivery service, brings letters, photos or drawings from Stay in Touch volunteers to the homes of seniors.

Three Western students, along with their community partners, are offering a little joy to seniors isolating alone during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Stay in Touch initiative brings messages of hope – and perhaps a few smiles – to doorsteps and computer screens across the community.

“Stuck at home, and without a clear way to help the most vulnerable in our community, we felt we needed to help in some way,” said fourth-year Medical Sciences student Matthew Shammas-Toma, who created the initiative with fellow students Mila Huhtala and Soroush Nedaie.

The trio started brainstorming ways to make a positive impact on the lives of seniors soon after social distancing rules were put in place, Huhtala said

“With no more visits from children, grandchildren or friends, undoubtedly loneliness and isolation anxiety would affect many people for months,” said the Neuroscience student.

Stay in Touch has partnered with long-term care homes and charity organizations to spread small moments of joy during the pandemic.

On its website, Stay in Touch offers submitted content from volunteers in an effort “to put a smile on faces,” Shammas-Toma said. Everything from songs, dances and artwork, to stories and magic tricks are all found there.

And the content just keeps coming. For example, Christ the King Catholic Elementary School in Richmond Hill hosted a Got Talent for Seniors Challenge show for its students isolating at home. The school has partnered with Stay in Touch to share some of its top submissions.

“We even received one unique submission of a dog named Tofu who was training to be a therapy dog for seniors,” said Nedaie, a Medical Sciences student. “His training was abruptly halted due to COVID-19, but the seniors still got to see a video and photos of Tofu doing training.”

The content can be accessed through the site, or via partner organizations. The Alzheimer’s Society of London and Middlesex is incorporating the content into its Virtual Social Recreation program for their clients.

Realizing not all seniors have Internet access, the group has partnered with Meals on Wheels London. Along with regular food-delivery service, the organization’s volunteer drivers also drop off  letters, photos or drawings from Stay in Touch volunteers. They also include a personal note of encouragement with each delivery.

Another five nursing and retirement homes in Windsor, Waterloo and London are interested in partnering with the initiative.

“It’s all about making a senior’s day by giving them the emotional support they need during these hard times,” Shammas-Toma said. “Something so simple can make a huge difference.”