BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – Every November, the New York State Veterans Home in Oxford honors its residents with a special day of activities that includes a large gathering in the auditorium, concert and community lunch.
Veterans groups help coordinate the program, and guests spend time visiting with the residents of the Chenango County facility.
“Besides Christmas, it’s probably our biggest event of the year,” said Kristen Slate, recreation therapist.
But this Veterans Day, the 146 veterans who reside at the Chenango County facility won’t be allowed visitors or to gather together for a meal due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The aging veterans, including 18 World War II veterans, are isolated in their rooms to protect them from the virus, which is especially dangerous to the elderly.
Slate put together a Veterans Day program of prayers, poems and singalong songs to be broadcast over the Veterans’ Home closed circuit television channel.
She also organized a card drive, something she saw other nursing facilities do, and posted the request on Facebook. Featuring photos of smiling Oxford veterans, the Facebook post was shared over 2,400 times.
Opinion:No one, especially those who sacrificed so much, should die alone
Soon, cards addressed to “Any Veteran,” began arriving at the facility. Slate estimates that the veterans received “at least 3,000” cards.
“I definitely was not expecting the response that we did get,” said Slate. “It’s been overwhelming.”
The envelopes arrived from well-wishers as “close as down the street” and from far away as California, Florida and Washington state. Many included crafts, flags, banners, masks and hands-on projects for veterans to enjoy. One envelope included cards made a kindergarten class and also a photo of the children making the cards.
The cards, which are a surprise to the veterans, will be distributed on Veterans Day. The recreation staff have decorated their carts for the event and will visit each veteran in his or her room, helping them read the cards if they need assistance.
Slate said that in a world that’s almost completely virtual, receiving mail has become rare for those who depend on it the most.
“It’s always been a really big thing for people of this generation and older adults to get cards in the mail,” said Slate. “Especially being in the military, they always had someone sending them letters. Their family members will call or video chat with them but I feel having that piece of paper or that card in front of them is going to make a world of difference.”
Veterans Day:Free meals, coffee and sweets at certain restaurants for vets
For residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s, Slate said they “they love actually opening up a card and just reading a card because it brings that reminiscing memory back to them.”
“I’m very excited to see their faces when we come around with our carts,” Slate said. “I think they will be overwhelmed.
Follow Binghamton reporter Kate Collins on Twitter: @kcollins213.