VERY quickly Dale realised she could not reach out to every resident at Bill Crawford Lodge but there was a dozen she could help by putting pen to paper.
Dale had been a Ballarat Health Services volunteer at the aged care residence before the pandemic, popping in about once a week to chat with residents or help with leisure activities.
For Dale, volunteering came from a personal place. Her mother had dementia and Dale saw first-hand the struggles people living with dementia could have in maintaining connections.
The coronavirus lockdowns struck and BHS suspended its volunteer programs.
When restrictions came on (aged care) visitation I felt it was important to maintain social connections for residents...I thought 'what could I do?Dale, Ballarat Health Services volunteer
"When restrictions came on (aged care) visitation I felt it was important to maintain social connections for residents," Dale said. "Staff were there and doing activities but families were not coming in. I thought 'what could I do?'. I thought, letters."
In floating the idea with the Lodge's leisure and lifestyle oo-ordinator Christine McGoldrick, Dale learnt some residents were having Zoom sessions with loved ones. Dale realised she could still find a way to talk to residents.
Each week, Dale writes 12 letters - each completely different but to the same set of residents. She drops letters off at the weekend and Ms McGoldrick will distribute the mail, spending time to read and discuss the letters with each recipient.
Dale uses a lot of photos and clippings from The Courier to keep letters topical. She tries to make each letter personal, even though she might only know each resident a little.
On Tuesdays, Dale Skypes into the lodge for Ms McGoldrick to walk about with an iPad so Dale can have little chats with residents.
Sometimes they refer to the letter, often they do not remember what was in the letter or do not recognise Dale. But to Dale this was not the point.
"It gives me pleasure that it's a nice time for them," Dale said. "I really didn't know how this was going to work out...But I could not do this without Christine."
Dale said BHS had so many different volunteer roles, there was something to interest anyone willing to offer their time or skills.
Retired seamstress Marlene Byron is usually in the BHS welcome team at the Base hospital.
Ms Byron is now instead helping to led new project Scrubs for Staff, launched this week to coincide with National Volunteers Week. The aim is to make 500 sets of scrubs for BHS frontline workers.
About 50 volunteers have signed up to get sewing and help the health service face the COVID-19 pandemic.
I think now it's more important than ever to keep volunteering as these are difficult times for all.Marlene Byron, Ballarat Health Services volunteer
"I think now it's more important than ever to keep volunteering as these are difficult times for all," Ms Byron said.
"BHS is very important to Ballarat and district in the wonderful service it delivers. As I enjoy sewing it gives me great satisfaction delivering my skill for a good cause."
Volunteers are sewing from home and workwear business Hip Pocket Ballarat is completing each set of scrubs with an embroidered BHS logo and the message 'made by volunteers'.
Scrubs will primarily be for emergency department and intensive care unit staff due to an increased demand for the protective garments.
Anyone keen to volunteer or donate material, email email@example.com
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