When online learning wasn’t holding her daughters’ attention anymore, Christine Wilkinson decided it was time for a life lesson instead.
The co-ordinator of the college’s recreation therapy program would show them how freshly baked banana chocolate chip muffins could be used to make the social isolation that’s come with the COVID-19 pandemic more bearable for those living in long-term care.
Wilkinson had heard from former students working at local nursing homes how visitor restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus were taking their toll on residents. So she recruited Emma, 13, and Kate, 10, to the kitchen to bake up some perennial favourites they could sell to friends and family. Together, they would use the proceeds to purchase markers and specialized colouring books for residents with dementia to pass the time.
“I was learning from (former students) how life-altering the restrictions were for residents and how difficult it was to bring joy to residents so I wanted to do something,” Wilkinson said. “I was also looking for a project that would help (my daughters) do something meaningful and help them understand my work at the college.”
Wilkinson sent out an email to friends and family, and she, Emma and Kate set to work. The response, she said, was overwhelming. Everything from orders for Kate’s “killer banana chocolate chip muffins” to offers of flour donations poured in.
So did offers of help from others, including recreation therapy program graduate Jenna Derksen-Scott, who took a leave from her job at the Linhaven long-term care facility in St. Catharines to stay home with her three children.
“It was really heartwarming to see what she was trying to do,” Derksen-Scott said. “It spoke to my heart to be able to give back to the community at this time. We started baking and selling and reaching out to close family and friends.”
With daughters Bella and Kira, 13, and Olivia 5, on baking, packaging and delivery duty, they contributed $600 to the effort.
All in, Wilkinson’s drive raised more than $4,600 for 414 colouring books from DementiAbility Enterprises, where Wilkinson is also a trainer. The markers and colouring books were donated to all 33 long-term care homes in Niagara between May 5 and June 24.
The books and markers are easily sanitized for safe use by residents who have largely been confined to their rooms since the pandemic started.
“It was just an amazing rally of support,” Wilkinson said. “It just touches so many people. There are very few people who aren’t touched by dementia. It was not difficult to get people behind the project.”
Better still was being able to deliver the donations to some of her former students working on the front lines during the pandemic.
Shara Gibbons, a recreation therapist at T. Roy Adams Centre for Dementia Care at Linhaven, was one of them. The centre was among the first to receive a delivery from Wilkinson and her daughters on May 9.
They were much needed and appreciated, Gibbons said. The donations have enabled residents to pass the time independently or one on one with either herself or another recreation therapist at the centre.
One of them is an artist, whose colouring projects Gibbons and her colleagues have put on display for the woman.
“She loves to see her art hung up on the wall. It’s a very pleasant experience for her. It’s very therapeutic,” Gibbons said. “The colouring books were a great thing to bring in at a time like this because it’s a one-on-one, meaningful activity.”
Now that every home has received a donation, Wilkinson is cooking up ideas for a second phase of the project.
“People still want to be involved,” she said. “We’ll find something to keep going, for sure.”