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Letters fly in for local seniors

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Peace Country seniors are receiving letters from all over the world through the Virtual Pen Pal Program. The Grande Prairie Palliative Care Society started up the initiative on March 17th for those in long term care facilities.

People from around the world can write to people who are isolated, like our local seniors and Program Manager Hope McNally says they’ve seen around 25 letters come in per day over the past week. Touched by the wave of community response, she says the notes haven’t stopped pouring in.

“Because we’re asking people to write generic letters, those letters can go to more than one facility. One emailed letter could potentially reach 200 people.”

McNally adds that all letters are received by email to prevent contamination since most recipients are at high risk. They are screened and rewritten, and the message is then forwarded to the facility, printed off, placed in an envelope, addressed to the resident, and delivered to them. For residents who cannot read their letters, a facility worker will sit down and read it to them.

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McNally says there are multiple Alberta facilities receiving letters from people, some of which are from other countries.

“We have one person from the U.K. She’s been sending us letters for residents. I have also had requests from seniors outside of the country who are in isolation. I haven’t been able to meet those needs yet because I am trying to focus on Alberta.”

McNally adds the program took off due to social media and a handful of people who have contacted her have family members who have taken part in the program. She says around 200 people are currently trying to get involved with the initiative.

“When we share that post on our Facebook, then I share it on my Facebook. I have family in Ireland, I have family in New Zealand, I have family in the U.K.; all of them are sharing it outward. Do you think it’s just me? Each one of us has family all over the world. It’s making such a big impact.”

McNally says the program may be familiar to some seniors as the main form of communication when they were younger was through letters.

“The pen pal program in such a huge way affects our seniors,” says Mcnally. “Letter writing was their texting. It’s [a way of] reminiscing for them, a form of life review for them to get back into that.”

Anyone interested in joining the Virtual Pen Pal Program can send an email to McNally at hope@gpcare.ca or to the Grande Prairie Palliative Care Society at volunteer@gpcare.ca.

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