‘It’s given us a purpose’

Senior community finding ways to assist others during pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to thrust millions across the country into unexpected economic situations, countless families across South Jersey and Camden County have also found themselves in precarious financial situations, possibly not knowing where their next meal is coming from.

Thankfully, local non-profits and organizations have found ways to continue to help others throughout these difficult times. Those non-profits and organizations often rely on the charitable nature and compassion of individuals in the community that are willing to donate time, materials or financial support in an effort to make the lives of others better.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what residents of the Hearthstone at Wedgewood senior community have been doing for the past seven months in their work with The Cathedral Kitchen in Camden.

Due to increased need and decreased initial donations back during the first week of April, residents of the 104-unit senior community decided to start donating sandwiches, fruit, grain bars and drinks to The Cathedral Kitchen to help the non-profit continue its weekly programs.

Originally, a small group of approximately 15 households helped out together the first batch of donations, delivered by resident Marge Copeland.

However, the donation drive would continue for much longer than any of them would have anticipated as the project expanded due to word of mouth within the community.

“I thought I was signing up for one week,” said Copeland, with a laugh. “At first I thought maybe I could get a few of my neighbors involved with this, so that first week I called 15 people that I thought might respond well to this, but the response has just been amazing.”

After a successful first week, Copeland says the president of the community’s HOA reached out to see if it could become a community project to open the donation drive up to all.

Since April, more than 60 households in the community have now donated as a collective community to help support others through The Cathedral Kitchen’s mission. Originally donating approximately 500 to 600 sandwiches a week, as well as fruit, grain bars and drinks, the community has since reduced the number of sandwiches and instead started to include monetary donations, diapers and assorted winter clothing as winter quickly approaches.

A resident of the community since its inception 14 years ago, Copeland says she’s not aware of any type of community project to this magnitude having taken place in the past.

While the work of the residents is commendable, it becomes even more so when the unique challenges a senior community faces in assembling and delivering donations during the COVID-19 pandemic are realized, due to being high risk.

“We can’t get together for any of these projects, everyone has to make the sandwiches or get their items to be donated and then find a time to drop it off within the community so we can donate them together,” said Copeland. “The Cathedral Kitchen had very specific guidelines for us in the beginning, about sterilizing each service and wearing masks while you make sandwiches, about how we could go about making donations.”

Although the more than 60 households haven’t been able to get together physically during the past seven months while completing a community service, Copeland says the drive has still helped create a sense of community amongst residents of Hearthstone at Wedgewood, while also connecting people in the community that may have never met before the pandemic.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding,” said Copeland. “People have gotten to know each other that didn’t know each other before. There’s a couple about eight doors down from us that has been here from the beginning of the community and I never met them before now.

“Most importantly, it feels like it’s given us a purpose because otherwise there isn’t much we can do. For the large part, we’re all stuck at home since we can’t volunteer because we’re seniors.”