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Local lady steps up her ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ game during pandemic

It’s Random Acts of Kindness Day, and this local resident is hoping to get others out taking part in the initiative during this particularly ‘blue’ year

Random Acts of Kindness Day (RAK) is celebrated on Feb. 17, encouraging acts of kindness throughout the community to  uplift spirits. 

Local resident Holly Keating is a retirement counsellor at Kingsmere Retirement Residence in Alliston and enjoys doing random acts of kindness for many of the seniors at the home, especially during the last year of the pandemic where many  have been isolated and unable to visit with family.

Last August, Keating met Gail Ford, a senior who was transferred to respite stay at Kingsmere while recovering from a broken hip. The two connected and became instant friends, forming a close bond with one another during unusual circumstances.

“We really connected on a personal level – she’s got a great sense of humor!” exclaims Keating. “She made a really lasting impression with our entire team.”

When Ford returned to her home in Briar Hill (Alliston), Keating kept in touch through phone calls and letters, and even dropped off bouquets of flowers and holiday baskets filled with treats and activity books.

“Our residence is very active in the community,” notes Keating, adding that their staff do random acts of kindness at least once a month or more. “We connect with seniors who are living in isolation and not having those same connections they would have had before [Covid] – we’re here to support them in any way they need!”

“I really want to inspire others to reach out in the community that are vulnerable,” expresses Keating.

At age 82, Ford lives very independently and resides alone in her home after losing her husband back in 1994. Since her hip surgery, Ford spends much of her time learning to walk on her own again and sees a physio-therapist regularly. Currently, she walks with the aid of a cane but cannot leave the house yet. Her family (who reside in Orillia) take turns delivering groceries to her and taking care of her banking while she recovers.

“I’m a real people person,” shares Ford, noting that the pandemic has taken a real toll on herself and other seniors in the community. “I joke around too much but I just really enjoy people."

Ford shares that the pandemic lockdowns have been “terrible” and since she is unable to go anywhere, she relies on weekly phone calls from friends, family, and people like Keating to keep her spirits up.

“She’s been spoiling me," say Ford. “[For Valentine’s] she brought me the most beautiful flower arrangement I’ve ever seen in my life."

During Ford’s time at Kingsmere where she met Holly initially, she says the staff and PSWs were ‘wonderful’ and everyone was fabulous and so kind, making sure she was well taken care of during her stay.

“She’s a wonderful lady and a hard worker,” notes Ford. “She’s great at keeping in touch, and when you live alone, it’s nice to hear that voice on the other end of the line!”

Ford has no children and jokes that she spends her mornings just trying to get the dishwasher emptied. Beyond that, she watches the “Young & Restless” every day, reads, and chats with friends over the phone.

“How long does it take to make a call? It makes someone’s day," says Ford. “I called a friend the other day I haven’t talked to in eight years! We had a wonderful conversation – she was bored to tears too. If you know someone who is alone, give them a call! I have the most fabulous neighbours that check up on me. They take care of me too."

Keating says the big picture is keeping the seniors engaged in the community. She calls her own grandmother every week.

“It doesn’t take much to call someone – grandparents – make a call," encourages Keating. “Or a hand-written note – it might be small but maybe that will trigger a phone call.”

Keating adds that letter writing has become very popular among the local senior residences and that Kingsmere Retirement Residence has connected with a local public school where Grade 2 students are part of a ‘penpal’ program, writing letters to local seniors in the community.

“I will sometimes read these letters to some of our blind clients and the letters bring tears to my eyes,” shares Keating.

The same class of children also visited the centre over the holidays and provided holiday carolling outside the building while residents listened from their balconies.

“We need to pay more attention,” explains Keating. “It’s been a very ‘blue’ year, so making phone calls and doing ‘wellness checks’ can make a huge difference… People are grateful we’re reaching out and hearing they’re cared for.”

“The thoughtful gestures from neighbours and friends, like Holly, go a long way as well,” shares Nadia Daniell-Collarossi, staff member at Sienna Senior Living. “During the pandemic, there has been a shift to more online communication and activity. But for seniors, like Gail, who don't use a computer, receiving letters, deliveries, and phone calls can be a bright spot in the day of anyone who is living alone. Holly and Gail's heartwarming story can hopefully be a catalyst for others to engage in random acts of kindness next week."

Some suggested acts of kindness include paying for the person behind you in the drive-thru, letting a car ahead of you in traffic, buying flowers for someone, making a donation to your local food bank, post anonymous sticky notes with positive messages around town for people to find, compliment someone, send an encouraging text or make a phone call letting someone know you care, make a card or write a letter, bake a treat or gift a meal to a friend or family member.

“It’s very easy to get depressed, but you just gotta pull up your socks and get going!” states Ford.