EL PASO, Texas – Maria Contreras sits inside a dark room with a news channel on the TV in the background. The 92-year-old mother of three and resident of SunRidge at Cielo Vista sits in her wheelchair with her orange cat, Tiger.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, she hasn’t seen her children for the past 11 months except for her son Raul Contreras. Contreras parks his black pickup truck outside her window, sits in a comfortable folding chair with an umbrella and chats with her using a monitor similar to a walkie talkie.
As she was with her son’s visit, the facility’s staff, Ricky Posada, surprised her with her with care package from the organization Mija, Yes you can. The packages lifts her spirits and shows someone cares. She smiles when Ricky walks in.
“Me siento muy feliz. Gracias a todos por contribuir” (“I feel really happy, thank you to everyone who contributed”), Maria said about receiving the unexpected care package.
Maria suffers from a recent hip fracture where she fell. She was hospitalized for three months. Without a chance of being in the comfort of her room or be allowed to have visitors, Maria has had to experience these challenging times alone. Because of her and other seniors, organizers of a new community group called “Mija, Yes you can” thought these residents would benefit the most with a warm and cozy care package.
“We realized that the most affected and vulnerable population throughout this pandemic were the elderly, specifically the elderly in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes,” said Melissa Rivas, events chair for the organization.
Mija, Yes you can is a local nonprofit organization funded by Iris Lopez, with the goal to empower women and their community. During the course of the pandemic, the organization has helped El Paso residents by donating food to families in need, school supplies to children, and raising funds to help other organizations.
“Because of the pandemic, many of them have gone without any sort of social interaction or visits from their families. And although the intention is to keep them safe, the isolation is devastating and lonely. As humans, the majority of our life purpose is through the relationships and interactions we have with others,” Rivas said.
Despite launching the project, called “Un abrazo” or a hug in Spanish, organization leaders hope it becomes an annual event.
“We decided to start small just to see what our turnout would be, and we got a pretty good response. With more time next year, maybe we could adopt more assisted living facilities or nursing homes,” Rivas said.
With the participation of the community along with other donations, such as blankets and socks, the organization was able to create 72 care packages to cover all of the senior residents at the SunRidge facility.
“With the chaos of the pandemic and everyday life, it is so easy to be consumed in all of it, but also easy to forget how important it is to slow down and be mindful of those who may have no support system or access to connect with their loved ones,” Rivas said.
The care packages include a ‘Mas Amor Por Favor’ T-shirt, blankets, socks, and a Valentine’s Day Card. Seniors were surprised with the care packages delivered by the staff.
“Oh, my goodness you have made my Valentine’s Day!” said 82-year-old Sheila Katz, a SunRidge resident turned off the TV to welcome the staff walking toward her with the care package. As Sheila pulled out piece by piece, she smiled as she touched the safety patches below a pair of socks, “These are lovely gifts, and I’ll put them to good use.”
Oscar Hernandez, 86-year-old, originally from Havana, said he is proud of being part of an environment that nurtures seniors with with love: “Estoy muy contento de estar en este lugar donde veo que nos cuidan cada dia, cada segundo,” or in English, “I’m really happy of being in a place where I see that they take care of us every day every second.”