The isolation caused by COVID-19 distancing measures is taking its toll on everyone. Kids are not able to see their friends, families aren’t able to get together, friends can’t socialize. But one group of people stood out more than others for Frances Balodis: seniors.
Having been deemed a high risk demographic, staying self-isolated is extremely important for the senior population. While it is necessary for their physical health, it is detrimental to mental health, especially as many are isolated either alone or with a spouse or partner.
Balodis is a talented card maker and a prolific card writer. “For the past 15 years I have been writing to a certain number of people every Monday,” she said. Those people include her children and friends with illness or dementia. And her cards are things of beauty, personally handcrafted out of paper and birch bark.
“I had been making stamped cards,” she said. But when she and her husband moved to Muskoka in 2011, Balodis said she made a sympathy card out of birch bark and the response to it was incredible. “I started making sympathy cards with a piece of birch bark missing a piece in the shape of a butterfly and when people received that card they loved it.”
Her entire line of current cards now feature birch bark.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Balodis began thinking of friends she knew who are older and now isolated. “I started to think about some of my senior friends in our Probus Club and how those people can’t get out of their house and then I thought of the people in our church, St. Thomas Church in Ullswater, and we are the youngest members at the church and we are 71 and 73. There are some very elderly and very alone people.”
So Balodis decided to expand her card writing to include them. “I am trying to write a letter a week to seniors who are struggling,” she said. “I wrote 39 last week and 37 this week.”
Balodis said she is touched by the response she has received from the seniors who have gotten a card in the mail from her. “One lady told me she put it on her bedside table so she can see it every night and another said she put it on her dining room table so she can look at it when she has dinner.”
In today’s fast-paced, social media-heavy digital age, letter writing and the sending of cards are often replaced by a text or an e-card. “An e-card doesn’t come close” to receiving a letter in the mail, said Balodis. “You look at it once and that’s it.” With one of her cards, people can hold them in their hands and look at them over and over and there is something very comforting in the tangible.
While Balodis does sell her cards in limited retail outlets, she said the majority of her sales are from people who have seen her cards and loved them. With her information on the back of her cards, it was easy for people to reach out to her. The birch bark is all collected from her property during walks with her husband, or often pieces are dropped off to her from friends who have collected them. She has a Facebook page, Creative Muskoka Cards, which showcases her work.
But whatever the means, Balodis encourages everyone to pick up a pen and put it to paper. “It won’t take long to grab a pen and write a personal note to someone,” she said. “Send it to anyone that you know, people are so lonely now and this takes so little time.”
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