When Maria Miranda was scrolling through social media and saw videos of families talking to their older loved ones through windows, she said she had to hold back tears.
"This is emotionally a stressful time. Add to that not being able to reach the people you love who are most vulnerable," said Miranda. "I would be out of my mind."
Miranda knows what it is like to not be able to see a loved one because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her mother is 94 years old. According to the CDC, older adults, 65 years and older, are at a higher risk for severe cases of the virus. Miranda stays away from her mother, but is able to video chat with her daily.
Miranda said she is aware that she is lucky and that there is still a digital divide that leaves a lot of seniors out of things like video chatting.
"It is the most vulnerable ones that don't even know where to begin that we need to take care of and give them a very simple solution in their rooms or bedsides where they can tap one button and talk to their family," said Miranda.
Two weeks ago, Miranda called her friends who own local Wireless Zone stores in Groton and New London. Miranda said that Neil Ryan, who works at the Groton store, and Sam Stamatiou, who works at the New London store, immediately responded and wanted to help.
"It is really easy for us," explained Ryan. "People get new iPads and tablets every day so these are our customers that we can go out and ask, 'that old tablet that you no longer use, can you bring it down to us?"
The three community members partnered to launch the "Tablets for Seniors" technology donation drive. They are asking people to drop off any old tablets to either of the two stores. The team will refurbish and repair the tablets, sanitize them and donate them to any nursing homes that voice a need. The stores are offering a $20 gift card to anyone who makes a donation.
Ryan said they have already collected about 20 to 25 tablets and they continue to hear from nursing homes with residents that are in need.
Mystic Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center was the most recent recipient of a tablet. Ryan hand-delivered a tablet to the nursing home Wednesday after hearing the story of Bob and Betty Ravenelle, a couple married 74 years who is now separated from each other because of COVID-19.
"Instead of having to jeopardize their health by traveling to a visit, they can do it from the comfort of their home," said Ryan. "Now it is just a virtual window, so to speak, instead of a physical one."
Tablets can be donated at the Groton location, 220 CT-12 #4, Groton, CT, or at the New London Mall location, 351 N Frontage Rd, New London, CT.
If a nursing or senior home is in need of a tablet they can call either 860-448-9000 or 860-439-1000.
"Other communities could turn to each other and do the same thing," said Miranda. "This is not magic. This is just thoughtfulness and working together to solve a problem."