READING, Ohio — For Donna and William Stotler, the Thanksgiving holiday has traditionally consisted of all 17 members of their still-growing family gathering at their Cheviot home. But as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Ohio and elected and health officials double-down on their pleas with the public to cancel large family gatherings amid the ongoing pandemic, the Stotler family Thanksgiving will look different this year.
"It I sit and think about it, sometimes I get kind of sad because we're not together," Donna, 74, told WCPO. "It's kind of like being homesick."
Pandemic-induced isolation -- especially its impact on more vulnerable populations like the elderly -- is a major concern among health experts as the coronavirus approaches nine months of disruption to everyday life. It has some organizations taking extra outreach initiatives as the holidays approach.
Before moving into senior living apartments in Reading, Donna and William owned their family home in Cheviot, where they had a tradition of hosting nearly 20 family members every year for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, they reserved the community room in their apartment complex -- a facility in the Maple Knoll senior living system -- but, due to the virus, they aren't expecting the family to gather this year, especially after their son contracted COVID-19 last week.
Given the circumstances, the Stotlers' Thanksgiving guest list might consist just of themselves and their 9-year-old Jack Russell Terrier mix, Oreo.
"He's part of the family," Donna said. "Since we can't get with the kids, it's nice to have him here to talk to."
Joshua Howard heads up Maple Knoll Communities' outreach services and affordable housing. He said the pandemic's impact is not limited to physical health.
"We just now, over the last couple of months, started to have that discussion around the mental health," Howard said. "You would definitely see more issues, more loneliness, without the animals."
It's why Maple Knoll's Meals on Wheels program has increased its outreach by roughly 67% this past year. They've also teamed up with local nonprofit, United Pet Fund, to include pet food in their deliveries.
"It's one less thing for those seniors to worry about," Howard said. "And that animal will be healthy, fed and able to give that love back to the seniors."