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HHH “Bag Ladies” Brighten Residents’ Days

Havenwood Heritage Heights has a “Bag Lady!”  In fact, we have two of them – Mother and Daughter, Erica and Emma Zelonis who work in the HHH Dining Services Department.  As you see them perform their day-to-day tasks in the dining room, one might think they are doing the general tasks of a food service worker – Oh no, it is so much more!  This dynamic duo provides exemplary customer service with a delivery style all their own.  Our “Bag Ladies” are the HHH version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” “Let The Sun Shine” and “Celebrate” all in one.

Erica and Emma adapted the basic task of making a breakfast bag for about 15 residents living in the Lodge Congregate Living Program that prefer to eat a light breakfast in their home instead of walking to one of the eateries between 7:30 am and 9 am each morning.  Erica and Emma could place the simple, wholesome breakfast of cereal, fruit, yogurt, juice and a muffin into the brown lunch bag, we are all so familiar with, and put their name and unit number on the bag, in large bold print, and everyone would be satisfied.

Instead, about four times a week, or more if the spirit moves them—these ladies create an artist designed lunch bag for each resident with a seasonal theme such as Halloween, Easter, 4th of July, or a daily specialty which recognizes a profession or object, such as  “National X –Ray Day,” “National Pig’s Day” or “National Wear Yellow Day.”

How do they get their ideas?  After supper in the evening, they go online to research what days they can celebrate during a week and create their picture art on the lunch bags.  Erica typically completes the drawing on the bags and Emma does the coloring.  Sometimes just the opposite.   Erica shared “Me and Emma are very close.  We love to see the residents happy and we bond at the same time.”  These ladies take four to five hours of their personal time at night to volunteer to create this artwork.

These “bags” are extra-ordinary in design and even more important – a treasure to the residents that receive them.  These residents look forward to their “bag” as if they were a special gift just for them — Oh wait, that is just what it is!  A simple, loving, handmade gift made with kindness and compassion.  Ironic as it may seem, it makes us think about the times when these residents would send their children off to school with their lunch bag and perhaps a note inside to inspire them throughout the day—just letting them know they are loved.  That’s what Erica and Emma do – With every bag there is a subliminal message in their art to each resident who receives one – Have a  great day, be happy, enjoy, thinking of you!   We believe this act of kindness and caring translates into hand clapping, outstanding, customer service!

“This is such a personal touch for our residents. All of their time and creativity makes a difference in people’s lives. What an example of going above and beyond,” said Michael Palmieri, President and CEO.

Resident Lois Wiggin shared that “receiving the bags just make you feel good. Everyone waits like children to see what is on the bag each time. They complete this work at home.  It is such a joy.”  Resident Sarah Winchester commented, “They are so unique and colorful.  They often choose a special theme for the day.  I hope they keep doing it.”  Finally, Resident Ron Askin said, “I think the bags are just wonderful.  I save them for my daughter, who is a teacher.  She cuts out the pictures for her students.”

Erica shared, “It makes me happy to see the residents happy.  Often times, they stop at the front desk and Home Health on their way home and share the bags with staff.  Also, Residents save the bags for their great grandchildren.”

And it goes beyond the bags!  The ladies even draw on the cover of a take home ice cream container.  For the holidays they decorate the tables with handmade clay themed characters, cookies and candy. Erica explained that as a stay at home mom, she used to do this type of thing for the kids and finds it is great that all these years later the residents share the same excitement.

“I look at Emma’s and Erica’s drawings on a brown paper bag and see artistic talent, colorful animation and dedication to detail but the true joy comes when I witness the residents’ expressions when they see the bags,” said Scott Danico, Director of Hospitality Services. “Emma and Erica have taken the task of drawing on a brown paper bag and transformed it into a tremendously positive impact on the quality of life of our residents.”

Emma has been a dining service employee since 2015 and Erica since 2016.  We are thrilled to have these two, creative, talented, kind, compassionate ladies a part of the HHH team. It is employees like Erica and Emma that inspire and challenge their colleagues to “make a difference” and make HHH a special place for residents to live and call home!