COVID-19 shuts down senior party

Christmas plans changed for residents

Tina and Rory Mathes, Joey Passarelli dressed as Santa, and Ashlynn Hendricks prepare to unload almost 100 gifts and deliver them to the residents at the Surrey Hills Estates Senior Living Community complex, 11300 Surrey Hills Boulevard, on December 20. (Photo by Carol Mowdy Bond)

By Carol Mowdy Bond
Contributing Writer

The December 20 “Santa for Seniors Christmas Party,” planned for seniors living in the Surrey Hills Estates Senior Living Community complex, 11300 Surrey Hills Boulevard, came to a screeching halt due to COVID-19. Several residents were diagnosed with the illness the week prior to Christmas.

The apartment complex manager contacted party organizer Tina Mathes the week prior to Christmas, to tell her about the newly-diagnosed COVID-19 cases.

Mathes spent weeks planning the Christmas event. She found donors who gave $1550 for the Christmas meal. And she had the seniors fill out forms, telling what they want for Christmas. Area residents stepped up to buy gifts for the seniors, acting as their Secret Santas.

Mathes said, “A lot of people donated the money for a catered Christmas meal.” Mathes planned that the residents, living in the low-income apartment complex, would have a party, a meal, and receive their Christmas gifts.

But upon hearing of the COVID-19 cases, Mathes quickly regrouped and created a Plan B. She, her husband Rory, Ashlynn Hendricks, and Joey Passarelli dressed as Santa, decided to hand deliver the almost 100 gifts directly to residents’ doors. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, they planned to quickly deliver, while spreading some holiday cheer.


Mathes said, “We’ll use the money for another meal at another time, or other needs the residents have. I’m so sad. I was looking forward to all the fun things we planned for them.

They’ve become like a whole complex of grandparents for me. For some of them, this was the only Christmas for them due to COVID-19. Hopefully, we can still bring a little bit of cheer to them.”

Mathes’ father lives in the complex. The historic October ice storm revealed serious issues for the apartment complex residents at that time. The exit signs and emergency backup lights had never been completed, leaving most residents in total darkness. Residents, who were immobile, were stuck on the third floor. Cell phones did not work inside the building. So, residents were trapped in complete darkness, and most did not own flashlights.

As a result, Mathes went into overdrive, and rallied the Surrey Hills and Piedmont areas to bring in meals during the many days with no electricity, replace the food lost in the residents’ refrigerators after power was back on, establish an ongoing food pantry where people may donate, and establish a Facebook page to help the residents. She also began organizing events including a successful Thanksgiving meal, and more.

The complex is partially Section 8 housing, but it is Section 8 through the state rather than the federal level.

Mathes worked to create a community system for the residents, so if they ever find themselves in need again, they have an outlet.

To follow the residents, and Mathes’ endeavors on their behalf, or to help, connect with Mathes through the Facebook page Surrey Hills Estates Senior Living Community.