June 25, 2024

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Santa’s ‘grandchildren’ distribute joy in Italian nursing residences

Hosts, protected by a glass window, attend a Christmas concert at the Martino Zanchi nursing home in Alzano Lombardo, one of the area that most suffered the first wave of COVID-19, northern Italy, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, as the hosts celebrate Christmas. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Hosts, shielded by a glass window, show up at a Xmas concert at the Martino Zanchi nursing property in Alzano Lombardo, one particular of the location that most endured the initially wave of COVID-19, northern Italy, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, as the hosts rejoice Xmas. (AP Image/Luca Bruno)


Emotions are operating higher this holiday year at the Martino Zanchi Basis nursing dwelling in northern Italy close to Bergamo just after months of close to-total isolation for its people.

Lengthy-time resident Celestina Comotti was disbelieving as a team member examine aloud a Christmas greeting from a spouse and children peering at her expectantly around a video clip get in touch with.

“Damn!’’ Comotti exclaimed when nursing home personnel confirmed that her well-wishers – 9-12 months-outdated Simon, his sister Marta and mom Alessia – were being people she had under no circumstances achieved prior to. The 81-year-previous girl dissolved into tears.

“I am trembling,” she stated, changing her eyeglasses.

Even with a grim calendar year marked by dying and loneliness, the getaway spirit is descending on the Zanchi nursing dwelling, a single of the first in Italy to shut its doorways to guests soon after a COVID-19 circumstance was verified in the close by clinic on Feb. 23.

The bearers of glad tidings were being the so-identified as “grandchildren of Santa Claus,” people today who answered a charity’s contact to distribute cheer to aged nursing residence residents, numerous of whom are living significantly from their family members or never have any family members users remaining.

The “Santa’s grandchildren” plan is in its third year. Very last year, it matched 2,550 “grandchildren” with citizens of 91 nursing properties. This 12 months, 5,800 presents were being dispatched to 228 nursing households about the country — an outpouring that is, in element, a response to the devastating toll that the coronavirus has had on the aged, comprising the majority of Italy’s verified 70,000 COVID-19 lifeless.

This was the Zanchi nursing home’s initial yr participating in the “Santa’s grandchildren” program. The town of Alzano Lombardo, wherever the residence is located, was 1 of the hardest strike in Bergamo province, wherever Italy’s first domestically transmitted coronavirus infections circumstances ended up uncovered and touched off the country’s deadly spring surge.

Michela Valle, the home’s pursuits coordinator, mentioned her target was not so a great deal about fulfilling elderly Italians’ needs for holiday break gifts but “about developing ties.’’ The program matched benefactors with 43 Zanchi residents this year. Valle hopes that one particular day, when pandemic eases significantly, there can be in-particular person meetings.

The recipients wore Santa hats throughout the digital visits with their volunteer grandchildren. They been given presents to unwrap during the calls, far too. Comotti’s adoptive family despatched her a shawl, just as she had asked for.

“Blue, like your eyes,’’ nursing house director Maria Giulia Madaschi reported. Comotti laughed fortunately as the staff wrapped the scarf all-around her.

Tami “Mario” Palmiro was thrilled with his baseball cap emblazoned with the name of Bergamo’s Atalanta Serie A professional soccer crew, provoking a stadium cheer from the 81-calendar year-outdated, before he, also, broke down in tears.

Palmiro arrived at the nursing property in August, going through a changeover additional wrenching than normal thanks to virus-manage methods that strictly restrict household visits, Madaschi claimed.

A person of the “grandchildren,” Ilaria Sacco, said she signed up simply because she was unable to journey household to Italy from California for Christmas this calendar year, and needed to experience connected. One more, Caterina Damiano, described that she experienced dropped each of her grandparents this year “but I continue to want to be a grandchild.”

Madaschi reported she normally located herself moved to tears by the interactions, as the “nipoti” and “nonni” found common ground. Several are currently generating ties, at times with genuine relations facilitating get in touch with with the new “nipoti.”

“The guests could understand the Xmas spirit, the joy of the vacation — to be in a position to unwrap and present, this kind of a standard event in this anomalous time period in which we are dwelling,’’ she stated. “It has been a excellent experience. To be repeated.”


Barry claimed from Milan. Charlene Pele contributed from Alzano Lombardo and Alberto Pellaschiar contributed from Rome.