In a world that can feel darker by the hour, two Boston sisters are spreading comfort.
Saffron and Shreya Patel founded Letters Against Isolation in early April. With COVID-19 especially affecting seniors — and with many nursing and care centers limiting visitors — the all-volunteer organization aims to show seniors someone out there is thinking of them through hand-written cards and letters.
What started as two teenagers at their kitchen table now involves some 2,516 volunteers who have sent nearly 21,000 letters and cards to nearly 5,000 seniors in 39 nursing homes around the US, the sisters say.
Seniors in Weston, Sharon, Haverhill, Cambridge, and Northampton are among those getting mail. Volunteers come from all 50 states, and 13 countries, from Croatia to Pakistan, and range in age from kids to fellow seniors.
“We’re amazed at how quickly the organization grew, and how many people are willing to take a little time out of their own day to bring an enormous amount of joy to a senior,” says Saffron Patel, 16, a rising 11th grader at Buckingham Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge, in a phone interview.
One staffer “put it best: We write the letter we want to receive right now. So we write the words we need to hear — those words of comfort, or joy or positivity,” adds Shreya, 18, an incoming freshman at Washington University in St. Louis.
The sisters were born in London and moved to the US six years ago with their parents, Sonal and Sanjiv Patel. They got the idea for the organization while video-chatting with their grandmother, who is self-isolating in England.
“She’s been receiving letters and cards from her friends [during] the pandemic. Whenever we video-chat with her, she’ll hold up the cards and read them,” said Saffron. “Shreya and I wanted to share that joy with other seniors.”
“We reached out to a couple of nursing homes to see if they’d be interested. We thought we’d write 10 letters at our kitchen table,” says Shreya.
But the response was massive. Overwhelmed, they put out a call for volunteers on Reddit, Facebook, and All For Good. It grew like wildfire. Letters Against Isolation has since been featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt.”
One nursing home staffer says “everywhere she looks, she can see the letters and cards stuck up on their walls,” says Saffron.
Post-pandemic, the Patels have no plans to stop.
“This pandemic has made us aware that senior loneliness is a massive problem— it’s not going away, and it was here before the pandemic started,” says Saffron. “We want to bring them joy.”
To volunteer, visit lettersagainstisolation.com.