West Berlin resident organizes and donates Easter baskets for seniors

Gifts for ManorCare include prayer blankets and cookies.

EMILY LIU/The Sun: The Easter bunny came early to ManorCare’s senior home in Voorhees.

Many churches and local organizations are preparing to celebrate Easter in different ways. Vicky Olson, a West Berlin resident and director’s choice for the East Windsor-based Miss Next Level Pageant and Mentoring Program, celebrated by donating Easter baskets to the ManorCare Health Services in Voorhees.

EMILY LIU/The Sun: Vicky Olson delivering the Easter Blessings baskets to ManorCare on March 30, 2021.

On the morning of March 30, outside the center’s front entrance, Olson dropped off more than 100 colorful Easter baskets. ManorCare staff members gathered outside to help bring the baskets inside; some carried them in their arms, while others wheeled them away on small carts.

EMILY LIU/The Sun: Activity’s Director Jeanne O’Sullivan and Administrator Lauren Pote help unload the Easter baskets from Olson’s van.
EMILY LIU/The Sun: ManorCare staff came out to help bring the baskets in. From left to right: Administrator Lauren Pote, Shannon Carpenter, Jeanne OSullivan, Kathy Morris, Sherrell Freeman, Nikki Diedrick, Henry Hayes and Victoria Wested.

Each basket was filled with goodies, such as knitted prayer pocket blankets made by members at Hope Methodist Church in Voorhees; cookies from Bunnycakes in Berlin; candy donated by the English Gardener Gift Shop in Haddonfield; crafts; soap; wash cloths, Easter eggs and cards.

EMILY LIU/The Sun: The Easter baskets contained washcloths, pocket prayer blankets, cookies, soap, letters and candies.

This is not the first time Olson has made such a visit, and certainly not the last. For the past several months, she has worked with her house of worship, Hope Church, Next Level, and other community members to create different gift baskets for the seniors around the holidays, including Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Olson was initially inspired by one of the service projects her church did,  where she and her daughters baked cookies for residents at another senior home, and where Olson got in touch with Jeanne O’Sullivan, activities director at ManorCare.

“She (O’Sullivan) explained to me that most of the seniors they had at the home did not have family, and due to COVID, none of them could accept visitors anyway,” Olson explained. “A lot of them were very lonely and didn’t seem to have a point moving forward. Having my grandmother who was 94 in the UK in a similar situation where none of our family could visit her, I kind of knew how lonely she was. It really got me thinking.”

Olson’s grandmother passed away in February after a fall where she broke her hip. Because of the distance, Olson was unable to be with her in her final moments, just as others have been separated from loved ones over this past year. The Easter Blessings project is dedicated to her grandmother.

Together, Olson and O’Sullivan made a list of things that could be donated to the seniors, and the former posted it online in various groups, while also working with Hope Church and Next Level to get the word out. The effort was met with a lot of support and enthusiasm.

EMILY LIU/The Sun: Vicky Olson, Director’s Choice for Next Level (left) and Jeanne O’Sullivan, Activities Director for ManorCare (right) after another successful delivery.

O’Sullivan has worked as the activities director at ManorCare for 10 years and has been in the field for 32. But she’s never seen such love and compassion for the seniors that Olson, the community and the church have. Though ManorCare has received gifts before, it’s never been to the extent of Olson’s effort.

The donation has given seniors and staff something to look forward to during a time when visitors aren’t allowed because of COVID and employees have to keep their distance. It was a hard year for everyone.

“When we were open, we were huggers!” O’Sullivan reflected. “We were hand holders, and to not be able to do that? I almost gave up my position because I couldn’t be who I was. I went to my boss and said, ‘I can’t do it anymore.’

“Death, and families calling and crying, it’s not what I did, you know?” she added. “I was always the fun and games part of it. But then I realized, I am the only one for them. I can’t give it up. And then our mutual friend got us in contact, and I love this woman.

“Just a little gift can make someone so happy. It lets them know someone cares besides us.”

As COVID restrictions ease and vaccines become more readily available, O’Sullivan hopes to have an event to thank the church and bring together seniors and the community. She notes that ManorCare will also make a donation within the next few days for pancreatic cancer research as a thank you. After Olson’s mother died of pancreatic cancer six years ago, she has been walking annually at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in Philly.

For those interested in helping, through a donation or by volunteering at ManorCare, contact Jeanne O’Sullivan at jeanne.osullivan@hcr-manorcare.com. The center still follows CDC guidelines, but once restrictions are lifted, it will welcome volunteers.