By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Nursing home residents miss the smiles, hugs and talks with visitors as they continue to be isolated because of the coronavirus pandemic. 


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Making gift bags for residents at Flannery Oaks Guest House in Baton Rouge are, from left, clockwise, Sylvia Hunt, Jan Arnold, Susan Sevario and Mildred Stroderd.  Photos by Maddie Toler 


Volunteers in the nursing home ministries in the Diocese of Baton Rouge are just as eager to reunite with those residents and are looking for ways to let them know “You are not forgotten.”  

“We miss them so much. Every time (the volunteers) talk to me, they ask, ‘When am I going to be able to go see them again?’ ” said Susan Sevario, nursing home ministry coordinator at St. Alphonsus Church in Greenwell Springs.  

Ministry volunteers are at Flannery Oaks Guest House in Baton Rouge at least six times a month bringing residents to Masses and Communion services, attending monthly birthday celebrations and visiting them in their rooms.  

“That’s a big chunk out of our schedule. They are our friends,” said Sevario. “We tell the activity director to tell them we miss them and love them.”  

The St. Alphonsus volunteers recently gathered and filled 87 bags with cookies, socks, toiletry items, stuffed animals and other trinkets and delivered them to the nursing home.  

Sylvia Hunt is a lifelong member of St. Alphonsus and was baptized in the “little bitty church,” St. Francis, the original wooden church built for the St. Alphonsus community. She joined the nursing home ministry after the flood of 2016.  

Her home was destroyed, but she is grateful God helped her put her life back together.  

“I said, ‘Lord, you’ve done so much for me, what can I do to give back?’ ” said Hunt.  

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St. Alphonsus nursing home ministry members and the staff of Flannery Oaks Guest House with gift bags for the residents.


Hunt said the residents give her much more than she gives them.  

“You really get attached to them. I will walk in the door and they will be coming down the hallway. I’ll tell them, ‘You beat me,’ ” Hunt beamed. “They don’t (normally) have a lot of visitors, so it means a lot to them. I know it means a lot to me.”  

Hunt was eager to assist when Sevario inquired about assembling the gift bags.  

“It was fun, especially since we haven’t been together since the lockdown,” said Hunt. “We had a good time. We were writing on the bags (messages such as) ‘God loves you,’ Scripture passages and sticking little decals on them.”  

Mildred Stroderd said, “I miss my people so much, oh my goodness.”  

Having loved ones who had been in the nursing home, Stoddard saw the benefits for residents to receive visitors. 

“It’s a lonely life, all of a sudden there are things that they are no longer capable of doing,” Stroderd said.  

She enjoyed residents’ stories and learned a lot about them as she brought them to Mass or Communion services, which are attended by non-Catholics as well. Many residents come out when they hear the music start.  

Stroderd and Hunt said some residents may be very sick, but when they hear the start of the Our Father, they perk up and pray.  

“They remember their prayers,” said Stoddard, who brings Communion to the Catholics who are too sick to attend. She hopes the gift bags comfort residents in knowing someone is thinking about them.  

When Anne Cifreo’s mother died a few years ago, she joined the nursing home ministry the following spring thinking, “I will do it for Lent.” She’s been with it ever since.  

“We brought them joy, but they brought us joy,” Cifreo said.  

She hopes the tokens the residents received will cheer them up and prays she will soon be walking back through the doors of “their home.”  “This is their last home before their eternal home,” said Cifreo.  

Dianne Pizzalato said each time she visited the residents in their room they told her, “Come back and see me.”  

One woman, now deceased, crocheted doilies from string. When she was running out of string, Pizzalato told her, “I see you’re getting low” and brought her more.  

“She made me a couple (doilies) that I treasure,” said Pizzalato, who misses the staff as well as the residents.  

“They’re like another member of the family,” she said.