Loneliness is something that affects everyone at some point, but seniors in particular are susceptible to feelings of isolation. According to the International Federation on Ageing, “the number one emerging issues facing seniors in Canada is keeping older people socially connected and active.” The COVID-19 pandemic has helped bring to light the shortcomings in our province’s long-term care system, which only serve to worsen the mental and social health of our elderly population. Three Mississauga university students sought a way to connect seniors with new friends through the power of written word, while promoting volunteerism among youth. Founded in August 2020, Sending Sunshine is a not for profit corporation that seeks to provide hope and happiness to seniors living in Canada. The organization has grown to welcome more than 10,000 student volunteers across Canada and internationally who participate in the organization’s card writing and pen pal programs. Sending Sunshine is paired with over 450 care facilities throughout Canada; in the community of Cornwall, we are partnered locally with Manoir Parisien Manor. Donated cards are sorted and shared with as many homes as possible throughout Canada.
Secondary students can gain community service hours by writing kind messages in homemade or store-bought greeting cards and mailing them to the organization’s Mississauga P.O. box. Sending Sunshine also encourages school and community-based chapters; a great way to meet new people while improving the lives of seniors. These groups are not only limited to high-school students, but include chapters run by college and university students as well as older community members. Currently there are no Sending Sunshine chapters established in the Cornwall area – anyone interested in running a chapter is invited to register online at www.sendingsunshine.ca under the “Chapters” heading. Another opportunity is our pen-pal program that connects students and seniors in a more personal way: instead of a single letter, students will write and receive at least 6 letters from a long-term care home resident and can create lifelong friendships. Interested students can apply online when spots are available. Information regarding volunteer opportunities and other updates can be found on the @sendingsunshineca Instagram page.
I first became involved with Sending Sunshine in February after seeing some of their social media posts through Instagram. I was working at a local nursing home and witnessed firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic increased loneliness and feelings of isolation in seniors. In order to introduce Sending Sunshine to fellow students, I hosted some card-writing meetings at my Kawartha Lakes high school.
Soon after, I took on a more involved role with the organization. As a student volunteer with Sending Sunshine and former long-term care employee, I believe that I bring a unique voice to the discussion of seniors’ issues. The current support systems for our elderly community members leaves gaps that groups like Sending Sunshine are stepping up to fill. Our group values respect, dignity, and diversity and envisions a world where no senior citizen feels alone.
Jessica Kellow is a Media Coordinator, Student Volunteer at Sending Sunshine.