Three Simcoe organizations want community members to show their love to local seniors on Valentine’s Day.
This will be the third year the Barrie police department is participating in #ShowTheLove campaign. They are encouraging citizens of all ages to create cards or letters, which officers will then distribute long-term care facilities and retirement homes throughout the city.
Const. Shannon Calladine is a member of the force’s community safety and well-being unit and community engagement team, which is heading up the initiative. She said it was created in 2021 with the idea to reach out so local seniors — especially those who live in long-term care facilities or retirement residences — who were feeling isolated due to all of the health restrictions that were in place at the time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We wanted to lift their spirits and help reduce any anxiety they may have been feeling. Also, we wanted to get children, schools and the community involved in providing that for them," Calladine said.
At the same time the Barrie police initiative was taking place, the North Simcoe Muskoka Specialized Geriatric Services program (NSMSGS) was running a nearly identical program, noted communications officer Apryl Munro, adding it only made sense to combine their efforts to try to reach even more seniors across the region.
“We saw first-hand the toll the pandemic took on the seniors — and the people who work in that setting — so we had to make sure we were showing them that we loved them, that we care about them and that they’re not alone,” she said. “We did that not just through art work, but through videos, social media and shout-outs from our local representatives. It was amazing to see.”
Jenna Wickens, who works as a mature minds coordinator with Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County,said the Show the Love campaign is a great way for local seniors to see they are important.
“We want to value people in our community and show people that they are valuable members of the community — both from a making cards standpoint and from getting cards,” said Wickens, who helped gather and deliver the more than 3,000 cards, which were delivered to 13 different facilities across the city.
Any additional cards were then distributed by NSMSGS to facilities throughout the county.
In the North Simcoe-Muskoka area, there are currently 23 long-term care homes and 53 retirement homes, noted Munro, adding it would be “amazing” to be able to get cards to residents at all of them.
“Right now, our goal is just to collect as many as possible,” added Calladine. "We have 21 schools that have said they will be creating cards and letters."
A recent social media post promoting the campaign has already received more than 600 shares, she said.
Feedback in year’s past has been heartwarming, Wickens said.
“It’s pretty incredible to go into these places and interact with these people. You just see their eyes light up when they open up a card and read a message. To see older adults have that interaction in these places where sometimes they can feel like no one is thinking about them was pretty amazing to be a part of," she said.
Even though many health-related pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the three women say they are excited to continue the campaign again this winter.
“Even as we are coming out of the pandemic, the people living in these long-term care homes were isolated before the pandemic. It was horrible during the pandemic and it hasn’t gotten much better,” Wickens said. “They are still isolated and some of them are too fearful to even come out of their homes right now.
"Some of the programs aren’t even being offered. It was important before the pandemic but it’s even more important now," she added.
The campaign also offers people an important opportunity to learn that everybody has a purpose and something to offer, no matter their age.
“I love the thought that kindness doesn’t have to be complicated and that people can reach out and kids — and older adults — can know they have value,” said Wickens. “How long does it take to make a card and put it together? If you're really crafty, maybe it will take you a couple of hours but normally it’s only a few minutes, but those few minutes could change the course of someone’s day and maybe the course of their life.
"Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s not effective.”