Public Safety

Cedar Rapids police deliver Christmas spirit to Heritage Care

Officers collect gifts for all 93 residents of the center

Cedar Rapids police officers deliver gifts Wednesday to all 93 residents at Heritage Specialty Care in southwest Cedar R
Cedar Rapids police officers deliver gifts Wednesday to all 93 residents at Heritage Specialty Care in southwest Cedar Rapids. The police department, with help from the Linn County Attorney’s Office, donated gifts for all the residents in recognition of the challenges the pandemic has presented for seniors, especially those at Heritage Specialty Care. (Photo courtesy of Cedar Rapids Police Department)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — This year has taken a toll on everyone, but seniors have been some of the hardest hit.

Between the risk of contracting COVID-19 and the isolation and precautions required to mitigate that risk, many seniors — especially those living in long-term care facilities — have had to stay home, forfeit visitors and go for months without seeing friends and families.

For seniors living at the Heritage Specialty Care Center in southwest Cedar Rapids, the holidays were made a little brighter this week when Cedar Rapids police officers surprised residents there with Christmas gifts.

“It started with a couple of our record techs,” said Officer Shannon Sampson. “You know, we love to do things like Toys for Tots or Santa Cop — and most of our programming is focused on kids and families. But what about our seniors? We haven’t really had much programming focused on them. So our techs suggested we do something for them this Christmas and we thought it was a great idea.”

Sampson said she and a friend who works at Heritage came up with an idea similar to the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.

Sampson put a small tree decorated with paper ornaments up in the police department. She also sent some ornaments to the Linn County Attorney’s Office after a few staff members there heard what the department was doing.

Each ornament had the name of a Heritage senior and a list of two or three gift ideas from the residents. Officers could pick an ornament or two and purchases one or all the gifts on the list, wrap them and deposit them back at the department.

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“Oh gosh, they had quite a wide range of gift ideas,” Sampson said. “One could be a fleece blanket or a pair of sweatpants or a sweatshirt, another wanted oatmeal cream pies or a bottle of hot sauce and someone else asked for crossword puzzle or word find puzzle books. Another resident asked for adult coloring books. And these are all small things that we can all take for granted or don’t really think much about, but they mean a lot to the residents.”

By Tuesday, Sampson said they had purchased and wrapped gifts for all 93 residents at Heritage. Wednesday, a handful of officers delivered the gifts to the center.

Heritage was one of the first long-term care facilities in Cedar Rapids to report a COVID-19 outbreak and later became one of the hardest hit facilities in the state — which is one of the reasons Sampson said she chose that facility for this project.

“We just thought that, you know, this has been a tough year for a lot of people, and Heritage was hit pretty hard with COVID, so we just wanted them to know that we’re thinking about them and cheering them on and hopefully they’ll appreciate the gifts that they got from us,” Sampson said.

Seniors living in nursing homes have been a major concern since the coronavirus first appeared in Iowa in March.

To date, residents of long-term care facilities have accounted for nearly one-third of the total confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Iowa. As of Thursday morning, 3,739 Iowans have died as a result of the virus, and 1,137 of those deaths have been among seniors living in long-term care facilities.

The facilities have been on lockdown during the pandemic — meaning many of their residents have not seen loved ones or visitors in-person.

That’s also why it was important they help, Sampson said.

Julie James, an administrative assistant with the Linn County Attorney’s Office, said the county has done similar programs in previous years, but didn’t have one planned this year. So when she heard what the police were doing, she jumped at the chance.

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“It’s just fun knowing that you were able to do something to brighten someone’s holiday,” she said. “You know, you don’t know if these people have a lot of family or not — you don’t know anything about them other than they need or would like a few help buying a few small items, and it’s such a simple thing we can do to help.”

James said it’s also personal. Her mom is in a nursing home and she hasn’t been able to visit her since March.

“And this year especially, when they’re all cooped up in that nursing home and unable to have visitors or see their families, they have to be lonely.” James said. “So, it’s just fun to knowing you were able to do something to brighten their day.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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