For many of us, the last several months of social distancing have been more stressful than usual, but for residents in senior living facilities, quarantining or sheltering in place has been downright difficult. At the Victorian Senior Care facilities in North Carolina, visitors have been strictly cut off since the outbreak of the pandemic four months ago, leaving many of the residents feeling lonely and isolated. 

Meredith Seals, the chief operating officer for Victorian Senior Care, explained that while it was difficult to keep the residents isolated, their efforts have paid off. They put strict restrictions in place early on, and as a result, have not had any positive COVID-19 cases in any of the 14 Victorian Senior Care facilities. 

woman sitting next to a white board that says we are looking for pen pals
Jeanette, a resident at Brookstone Haven of Randleman in Randleman, North Carolina, is looking for a pen pal who likes likes gospel music, crossword puzzles, and helping others.
| Credit: Courtesy of Victorian Senior Care

A few weeks ago, administrators at one of the facilities in Cary, North Carolina, were looking for ways to lift the resident's spirits as they continue to shelter in place. They came up with the idea to connect each resident with a pen pal to help keep them connected to the community and outside world. The staff helped each resident take a photo of themselves with a poster board stating their name and a hobby they’re interested in — that way, interested pen pals can choose a senior they have something in common with. The administrators posted the photos on Facebook and the post quickly went viral, gaining more than 314,000 shares in the first week. 

The seniors got to choose the hobby they wanted to talk about, and the range of topics is wide enough that anyone interested in writing to a senior should be able to find something in common with one of them. The requests range from a vague category (like someone who loves dogs) to something as specific as someone who lives in Hawaii. Some are looking for a pen pal that will read the Bible along with them, while others are just seeking someone to talk sports with. And judging from the response on social media, the residents will have plenty of mail to read in the coming weeks. 

man holds white poster board that says Ken needs army pen pals
Ken, a resident at the Phoenix Assisted Care in Cary, North Carolina, is looking for a pen pal who has a connection to the Army.
| Credit: Courtesy of Victorian Senior Care

Seals says the staff and residents were blown away by the amount of support they’ve received. “It has been mentally strenuous on them to not be able to see their families or go out into the community,” she said. “We never imagined it would get this big. We are overwhelmed with the love that we have received from all around the world.”

Since the post went viral just last week, Seals says the cards, letters, and packages have just started to arrive and the residents are overwhelmed with gratitude. “They are astounded by the response received,” she said. “It has increased their mental well-being in this challenging time.”

woman with braid reading a letter
A resident at Lumberton Assisted Living in Lumberton, North Carolina, opens a letter. Residents started receiving mail yesterday after the post went viral last week.
| Credit: Victorian Senior Care / Lumberton Assisted Living

Since the first viral post, the staff has been coordinating similar photoshoots at each of the other 13 care facilities, so even more seniors will be searching for pen pals this week. To write to a resident, look through the Victorian Senior Care Facebook page and click on the images until you find someone you connect with. Each batch of photos is captioned with the address of the individual (you’ll send it directly to the living facility in care of each resident’s first name for privacy reasons). 

This story originally appeared on BHG .