BY ANASTASIA ECONOMIDES
For some, stocking up on toilet paper made them feel secure during stay-at-home orders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. For others, it was buying pasta and bottled water, or ordering takeout to help struggling local eateries. But for those who are considered to be of especially high risk and have been on strict lockdown since the pandemic started, a heartfelt letter is all that’s needed.
Meryl Mittleberg, a vocational coordinator for the Lowell School — a special education day school in Flushing — came up with an altruistic idea that would benefit everyone involved.
The assignment was simple: Write down how you feel about these trying times, and what you look forward to when life resumes and COVID-19 is no longer a threat. The writings would then be given to isolated seniors in assisted living facilities.
Older students had an opportunity to write the letters in class in March, right before distance learning was implemented.
Mittleberg, who has been with the school for 10 years wearing many hats, serving currently as the theater director, did not expect approximately 300 letters written by students in grades 5 through 12 filled with “touching and tear-jerking words.” The letters ranged in length from a paragraph to several pages long.
“They realize something’s bigger than themselves,” said Mittleberg, who thought of her late mother when coming up with the initiative. “Those who are isolated would probably love to receive letters from kids. And [the students] are lonely, too. By putting their feelings down into words, they are helping themselves.”
The Lowell School serves students who have various learning differences from elementary to high school levels across the five boroughs and Nassau County. For them, the pandemic is the most daunting experience of their lifetimes.
Yet themes of positivity and gratitude are reflected throughout the writings. Rayden, a ninth-grade student, wrote about getting up early just to see the sun rise. “It reminds me that each day is new and there is always something good about that.”
Thomas, a seventh-grader, expressed longing for what so many take for granted. “I am staying with my grandmother right now because my mother and father work in hospitals. Now all we do is FaceTime each other. I miss them.”
Angeliki, an 11th-grader, pointed out that a busy world has stopped in its tracks. “Everyone was in their own bubble doing their own thing, and now we are truly seeing people for people.”
And there was astute observation. Mittleberg recalled a letter written by Leandro, a seventh-grader that said, “My family went to Texas on vacation, but when we got there, [coronavirus] came and all they wanted to do was buy toilet paper. I hope you have toilet paper.”
To date, Mittleberg has sent the compiled letters to 25 facilities that go beyond the boroughs, including some in New Jersey, Connecticut and California.
“Even though we’re in the process of reopening, people in nursing homes will always enjoy them,” she said.
Mittleberg said she will continue offering up the writings to anyone who accepts them, and has heard positive feedback from recipients.
“Some of our residents keep [the letters] on them when they are out of their rooms in their walkers,” said Nazima Pasha, an activities leader for Flushing House, a retirement home. “Thank you so much to you and your staff for this … it has lifted their spirits in this much-needed time.”
See some of the letters below.