Everyone can agree that the 2020 holiday season was like no other. While many will look back with a smile on the creative ways families found to adapt to a Christmas without gatherings, it wasn’t without its share of challenges. Across the Réseau Compassion Network, leadership and staff were echoing the same concern: people were, and continue to be, lonely. The pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of those forced to stay home to stay safe.
“Christmas was right around the corner and we wanted to do something that could make an impact for those who were feeling isolated and far from their families,” says Jennifer Kilimnik, who is leading a special committee dedicated to alleviating loneliness in those receiving care or services in the network. “It’s been hard for everyone, but those living in long-term and assisting living complexes were being affected in huge numbers. We wanted to find a way to help, if in only a small way.”
The concept for a Christmas letter writing campaign was floated and taken up with gusto by staff and volunteers. “It’s hard to imagine what concrete steps we could do to help people feel less alone,” continues Kilimnik. “So we started with the easiest and safest thing we could think of: connecting people through the art of letter-writing.”
The call was put out to the network and the public, and many responded. St.Amant’s Volunteer Services shared the request with their mailing list. Ace Burpee, a radio-show host with thousands of followers, shared the ask on his social media accounts. Local radio station CHVN interviewed organisers to help spread the word. The message got shared from person to person, via email, on Facebook and through phone calls.
In the span of a few days, well over 100 letters were generated online, after which they were delivered to Villa Aulneau and Résidences Despins in Winnipeg and Dr. Gendreau Personal Care Home in Ste. Rose.
The messages touched a chord with all who read them. “I looked through most of them, admits Kilimnik. “I actually got a little bit emotional. The joy, the optimism, and the generosity of the letter writers was truly incredible. They shared memories, hopes for the future, and compassion for each other. Even though it was strangers writing to strangers, you couldn’t help but feel a sense of community. It was a beautiful thing.”