Saturday, 16 January 2021


Old-fashioned letters to help seniors stay connected

Whitianga Social Services has launched a new community initiative to help older people stay socially connected while keeping themselves safe as the Coromandel and New Zealand continues the fight against Covid-19.

The Mercury Bay Pen Pal Club will pair up seniors who would like to receive mail with volunteers in the community who are willing to put pen to paper to revive the dying art of letter writing. “There are a lot of older people, many living alone, who for various reasons - some of them health related - cannot get out of the house,” says Social Services manager, Sheryll FitzPatrick. “Others are unable to drive. They love a chat, but some don’t have family close by. They are not from the generation of technology and can feel very cut off from the community.”

While particularly aimed at seniors, the Pen Pal Club will be open to anyone who is housebound or feeling isolated. While the idea has been inspired by what staff at Social Services have observed during the Covid-19 lockdown, Sheryll says social isolation is not just a symptom of the virus restrictions and difficulties engaging with new technology can compound the problem. “We were out delivering groceries and other essential supplies during lockdown and while this was absolutely vital, we were also very conscious of how people responded when we visited them, how important conversation was and how many people really are missing that,” Sheryll says.

“Some older people find technology difficult to learn and understand. They may not have technology available to them. However, they come from a generation of letter writing and while some may not be able to reply, depending on their age and health, receiving a letter, would be something to look forward to and a great way to keep in touch with what is happening in the community.”

Whitianga Social Services has put procedures in place to keep all participants safe. “All letters will go through us and we will organise delivery,” says Sheryll.

A new custom-made letterbox has been set up at Whitianga Social Services on Cook Drive where letters can be dropped off.

Those who would like to be involved either by writing or receiving letters are asked to phone Sheryll on (027) 303 5303.

“We are encouraging children to get involved too by drawing a picture or maybe writing a story that would help brighten up someone’s day when they receive it,” Sheryll says.

Pictured: From the left - Whitianga Social Services Community programmes Coordinator, Stacey Cullen, Social Services manager, Sheryll FitzPatrick, Social Services volunteer, Shannon Schwenke, and Social Services OSCAR (after school and holiday programme) coordinator, Leah Schwenke, at the mailbox Shannon created for the Mercury Bay Pen Pal Club.


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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.