At a time when in-person contact is limited by COVID-19, some of the area’s oldest and youngest residents have found a unique way to stay connected — through making cards.

At the Head Start center in Owatonna, operated by the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council and based out of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, youngsters were busy on Friday getting inky for a good cause. Under the guidance of their teachers, toddlers stamped their hand- and footprints on cards, painting around the impressions to turn them into flowers and bees.

Along the edges, staff had helped right messages of hope: “Be strong because things will get better” and “Thinking of you.”

Last weekend, the cards were then brought to The Emeralds at Faribault, a long- and short-term care facility with memory care and skilled nursing services. Like many similar communities, The Emeralds has had to limit visitation and large-group activities over the last few weeks so as to limit the risk of exposing residents to COVID-19.

Activities Director Sue Hancock noted that, for many residents, these changes have taken an emotional toll. In order to try and find ways to stay connected, Hancock has been organizing hallway bingo — where residents play from just inside their door — one-on-one visits and sharing photos with family members over social media.

Thinking about her significant other, who works at Our Savior’s and frequently interacts with the Head Start program, she said the idea came to her to see if the children would be willing to make cards.

“I said, ‘Do you think you could ask them to do this?’” she explained. “Then, they worked all day on Friday. He went to pick the cards up at 4 p.m. for me, and I brought them in this Saturday when I was working.”

For the students, Head Start center manager Gloria Rebeca Gonzalez explained that she and her staff also helped turn the activity into a lesson — teaching the children about grandparents and explaining that they were making the paintings “for grandma and grandpa.”

After sending the initial batch off to The Emeralds, Gonzalez added that the center already has plans to make more for other area communities.

“Our goal is to bring smiles to those who are isolated and aren’t allowed to go out because of the higher risk they might have,” Cristina Zamarron, an infant teacher at the center, added in an email. “Even if there wasn’t a virus around, some of these senior citizens don’t have someone they can talk to all year, or someone who can visit them once in a while.”

While an estimated 85% of Minnesotans will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home, according to recent modeling released by Gov. Tim Walz Wednesday, 15% would likely require hospitalization. Certain risk factors can also make individuals more vulnerable to serious symptoms — among the highest-risk demographics are the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Apart from a batch of cards sent from a resident in Claremont, Hancock said the delivery from the Head Start center is one of the first times residents been able to connect with people outside of The Emeralds in this way. She noted that everyone was overjoyed to receive the handmade notes — the most powerful thing, she added, was to know that there were others out in the community thinking about them.

“Because of everybody being isolated like this, there are a lot of emotions,” Hancock explained. “They love children anyway, and I think just the fact that the children remembered them by doing this made them feel special.”

Reporter Bridget Kranz can be reached at 507-444-2376. Follow her on Twitter @OPPBridget. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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