ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — It has been more than a year since COVID-19 put seniors on lockdown in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
This week, an effort to bring joy to seniors who otherwise feel isolated and alone hit its one year mark.
Scott Van Duzer, owner of Big Apple Pizza in Fort Pierce and founder of the Van Duzer Foundation nonprofit, started “Slices for Seniors” at the beginning of the pandemic.
Van Duzer and groups of volunteers and donors would deliver pizzas to the facilities, along with t-shirts and handmade cards.
Treasure Coast Hospice, Dr. Shamser Singh, We Honor Veterans, Dragonfly Graphics, and Seacoast Bank gave donations in addition to community members to make the effort a success.
“We’ve hit every nursing home and assisted living facility in St. Lucie County and a little over 5,000 seniors in one year,” Van Duzer said.
This week, he celebrated the one-year anniversary of the program at Emerald Health Care, delivering pizzas for a second time to seniors there.
“I remember last year very well,” one resident told Van Duzer. “It’s special to us that you’re doing this for us. I appreciate it very much,” she said.
“I get teary-eyed. Its really exciting for them,” said Emerald Health Care Medical Director, Ian Boykin. He says seniors have had limited visitors because of safety protocols. “It’s hard on them. It’s tough on the seniors.”
“Just important to let you know a lot of people are still thinking about you,” Van Duzer told one woman, while giving her a handmade card, cookie, and t-shirt.
St. Lucie County Commissioner Sean Mitchell also tagged along for the chance to see his mother. Visitations had been limited, and he had not seen her for weeks.
“You are loved. A lot of people outside thinking about you,” Van Duzer told her. She replied, “I can’t imagine a nicer day.”
Slices for Seniors helped Van Duzer’s business survive the pandemic. He did not have to cut any jobs.
But at the heart of the cause was something more personal.
“We had no goal, I just wanted to honor my mom,” Van Duzer explained. His mother spent some of her last days in a nursing home, which is why it was so important for him to visit seniors who may otherwise not be able to have visitors.
“She was proud of our work that we do. She’d be smiling right now,” Van Duzer said.