OKEECHOBEE — Bring Smiles to Seniors Inc., an organization begun by Ron Tyson who was born and raised in Okeechobee, is experiencing an unprecedented demand for greeting cards this year due to the isolation COVID-19 has placed on senior communities. Bring Smiles to Seniors was created by Tyson after a visit to his grandmother, Lola Mae, in the nursing home. During his visits, Tyson said he was struck by how many of the residents did not have visitors, cards or any contact from outside the facility at all, and this broke his heart.
In March 2016, he founded a nonprofit called Bring Smiles to Seniors. They work with schools, civic groups and companies to make and decorate greeting cards that are delivered to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, seniors in elderly nutrition programs and those who are homebound.
Tyson said: “There are many seniors who feel alone and unloved maybe because they no longer have family living or they have just been abandoned by those they once cared for. Bring Smiles to Seniors is trying to remedy this situation by reaching out to these lonely people.”
This year, because of the pandemic, it has been more important than ever to reach out to those residents in the nursing homes, and Bring Smiles to Seniors has been up to the challenge.
“It has been a big year for us. Last year we delivered almost 72,000 cards throughout the year. This year we are over 158,000 already and we haven’t even done the holidays. The need has been great, for sure! We have had companies involved, more card makers have found out about us through their card-making channels, and our home delivery mailing group that sends to seniors at home has grown exponentially. They have sent over 30,000 cards themselves. They named it after my grandmother — Lola’s Smile Bunch.”
The need is great, though, he said. People can help by donating cards (store-bought or handmade), or by donating to help with postage and supplies. There is a lot of info available on the Bring Smiles to Seniors Facebook page and website at bringsmilestoseniors.com.
“If you are a card maker and are willing to include messages inside of your cards, that would be greatly appreciated since we have lost many of our school and civic group partners who normally decorate cards for us. We still welcome cards that are blank inside to use with our individual decorators.
Bring Smiles to Seniors, Inc.
Ron Tyson came about his giving spirit naturally. His parents, Alice and Kenneth Tyson, have been giving back to the Okeechobee community for over 20 years. They began building a Christmas village in their front yard and each year add several new pieces to the landscape. The lighted Christmas village is a walk-through displayt and is open 6-10 p.m. daily, free of charge. The village can be seen on Northwest Fifth Street off U.S. 98 near the county extension office.