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Words to the wise

Group uses mail to cheer lonely seniors

Jacob Cramer, founder and executive director of Love for Our Elders, says he and his colleagues are “the biggest fans of USPS.”

Jacob Cramer knows that receiving a handwritten letter can help someone feel connected, especially if they’re lonely.

Cramer is the founder and executive director of Love for Our Elders, a nonprofit organization that seeks to combat isolation in senior communities through letters, videos and stories.

“Letters have such a big impact,” he said. “I was 13 years old when I started writing letters. I try to write a letter every day.”

Cramer, 20, who is also a Yale University student, started Love for Our Elders in 2013 following the death of his grandfather. At the time, Cramer was volunteering at a senior living community, where he enjoyed spending time with residents but grew concerned when many would confide that he was their only visitor in months.

At home, Cramer felt compelled to write letters to his older friends. Since then, he has embarked on a worldwide mission to alleviate loneliness among seniors.

In 2020, Love for Our Elders mailed more than 90,300 letters to 952 senior facilities in the United States and other countries, including Australia, Canada, England, India, Ireland, Malawi and the United Arab Emirates.

“We’re a youth-driven team fighting loneliness with love,” said Cramer. “We are the biggest fans of USPS.”

The initial days of the coronavirus pandemic challenged Love for Our Elders when nursing homes were unsure if physical letters from the outside could pose a health threat to residents. By April, though, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization indicated there was no evidence that the virus spread through the mail.

Once deemed safe, Cramer said, there was an influx in letters, as well as an increase in letter-writing volunteers, which the organization calls “kindness ambassadors.”

“Many people were feeling helpless during the pandemic. But many realized that you can control being able to give and positively impact someone’s day,” he said.

Staffers at senior centers appreciate the letters, too.

“Love for Our Elders is not only bringing letters to residents, it is providing hope and comfort. This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen,” said Tracy Aiello, a staff member at a facility in Toms River, NJ.

Maddie Goff, a staffer at a senior community in Lenexa, KS, added, “I’ve been struggling to get my residents to have fun as they have been sitting in their rooms with zero visitors allowed, even family. This means so much to me. My residents needed something just like this to brighten their days.”

While Cramer is learning virtually on the Yale campus in Connecticut, his father, Barry, helps him in Cleveland, where Love for Our Elders is based.

Barry picks up the organization’s mail from its PO Box at the Lyndhurst Mayfield Post Office. He said employees there are “always courteous” and typically have the organization’s daily mail “ready for pickup before I even get to the counter.”

He’s also a fan of the self-service kiosk.

“I can go in 24/7 and prepare packages for mailing. The address lookups are great, and I feel comfortable that the packages will get to the correct destination,” he said.

Another initiative for the organization is promoting Feb. 26 as National Letter to an Elder Day.

The younger Cramer said the holiday, which he has registered with the National Day calendar, celebrates sending an elder a handwritten letter of love.

The date is also his grandmother’s birthday and the time of year is significant, he said, because “after the holiday season, it can be particularly lonely for seniors.”

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