by Jannette Jauregui
I walked toward the doorstep of a Ventura County home, Thanksgiving meals in hand. A quick knock, then several steps back to ensure a safe distance. On the other side of the door was a woman who shares the home with her 99-year-old mother. Both had been sheltering in place since the COVID-19 crisis hit the region in March. The risks associated with contracting the virus meant this holiday season would be spent without other members of their family.
“It means a lot to us,” she said. “We are always at home, and it means a lot to us that someone remembers us and cares for us.”
The delivery marked the end of my route for the day – a route established as part of the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging’s (VCAAA) Holiday Meal Delivery program and overarching response to the public health emergency. Like the dozens of others who made deliveries that day, the experience gave me reason to pause. The few stops I made in the couple hours prior represented the needs of millions of older adults and people living with disabilities who, for more than nine months now, have struggled to secure safe access to food. It’s overwhelming, if you think about it. Was it enough to make a difference?
For the more than 1,200 Ventura County residents who received holiday meals that day, the answer is yes. It absolutely made a difference, as it has for all who have been on the receiving end of the more 2.7 million meals the VCAAA has served since the crisis began. What’s more is the Holiday Meal Delivery included a unique component that stemmed from a simple call to action to the community.
In September, the VCAAA launched a Letters of Support Campaign in partnership with Meals on Wheels America. The Campaign is designed to provide kind notes of encouragement to older adults and people with disabilities – a quick reminder that they are not forgotten and that we will get through this together. The community came through in droves. Dozens of letters turned into hundreds, which turned into thousands. Then came the Holiday Greetings Campaign, an extension of the Letters of Support Campaign.
Newspapers printed the press release. News channels broadcast the request. Radio stations ran stories during their highest traffic hours. Schools made it a community service project. And other older adults saw it as a way to reach their peers. Collectively, the community came together both in November and December to help perfect strangers experience a little brightness in an otherwise dark and challenging time.
“I don’t know you,” some children wrote in the cards. “But I am thinking about you. And I care.”
It might seem simple on the surface, but the impact the cards have had in the lives of others runs much deeper.
The isolation and loneliness the pandemic forced upon those most at risk has become just as threatening to their health as the virus itself. A simple meal delivery and kind note may mean the difference between a day of experiencing depression versus one with a moment or two of joy.
If you sent in cards to the VCAAA, it’s important that you know your contributions inspired a community. We will never be able to fully express our gratitude. Those who wish to continue to contribute cards, or those who want to contribute for the first time, may still do so. The VCAAA’s Letters of Support Campaign is an ongoing effort. Cards or letters may be dropped off or mailed to the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging Letters of Support Campaign at 646 County Square Drive, Suite 100, Ventura, Ca. 93003.
Jannette Jauregui is the Public Information Officer for the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging.