More than 700 area long-term care facility residents had an extra reason to smile this Valentine’s Day, thanks to a partnership between a local balloon company and its generous supporters.

During the week of Feb. 8-14, Poppin Decor Balloon Co. Owner Sam Martinez, his staff and a few dedicated volunteers delivered “balloon buddies” to care facility residents in Saginaw, Shiawassee and Genesee counties, a small gesture meant to lift residents’ spirits while facility restrictions limiting face-to-face visitors continue amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In total, 712 facility residents spanning 24 area facilities received “balloon buddies” as part of Martinez’s “Adopt-A-Grandparent” balloon drive, including residents at Chesaning Comfort Care, Oliver Woods Retirement Village and Pleasant View.

“Feeling loved is something we all need to feel at any part of our life,” Oliver Woods Life Enrichment Manager Brandy Quaderer said. “We are very grateful to Poppin Decor for thinking of us and all the joy that not only spread to us, but the entire movement of smiles they gave to so many.”

Martinez found inspiration for the “Adopt-A-Grandparent” initiative in early January, as several balloon artists around the country detailed on Facebook similar ventures that had launched in their own communities. The Chesaning native launched the effort at his shop, 107 W. Broad St., Jan. 11, asking community members to donate $10 to “adopt” a care facility resident.

Initially, the goal was to provide balloons to the residents within Chesaning’s four long-term care facilities, but after generating more than 400 donations in three weeks — and receiving additional outreach through local media coverage — Martinez vowed to fill as many facilities with balloons as donors would support.

“That was the biggest thing for us, just trying to reach as many people as we could and get as many people as we could involved,” Martinez said. “We didn’t think we would do quite that many but it was nice to have people from outside the area, getting their attention (to donate) … It was just a good feeling to have those people call and want to do it and help support us.”

The kind gesture was not lost on 90-year-old Oliver Woods resident Ruth McCarthy.

“I loved it,” she said. “It’s nice people are thinking of us.”

Like many area care facilities, Oliver Woods has imposed visitor restrictions as a precaution during the pandemic. Currently, residents are limited to chatting with love ones via scheduled window visits and/or video conferences, according to Quaderer.

Dressed up in bright colors to mirror the balloons, Quaderer and Oliver Woods Hospitality Specialist Marte Merrell knocked on all 39 residents’ doors last week, delivering the balloons with a smile.

Pat Brettrager, who heard about the initiative beforehand, was delighted.

“I was excited to receive (a balloon buddy),” Brettrager, 85, said. “I feel good about what the community is doing.”

The excitement and enthusiasm was also palpable at Pleasant View, where Assistant Activities Director Erika Tomac witnessed the joy first hand.

“This balloon drive brought so much joy to our residents,” Tomac said. “We were completely blown away by the responses from our residents.”

“It was very wonderful,” Pleasant View resident Clarabelle Watson said.

“It brought a smile to my face,” fellow resident Catherine Hite added.

Martinez admitted one of the hardest things about the balloon drive was the “rolling total” of donations coming in, but even as the number of facilities climbed, he and his wife Jennifer remained committed to seeing the effort through.

“Our commitment to every home that we worked with was that everybody would get (a balloon) in the building,” Martinez said. “We were prepared to donate whatever we needed to (out of our own pockets) to finish it out, but luckily we didn’t have to. Everybody came through and supported it.”

In total, Martinez estimates roughly 100 man hours went into crafting the balloon buddies, a task he shared with several volunteers.

“It was a big undertaking but it went well,” Martinez said. “We wouldn’t change it for anything. If we had to go back and do it again, we most certainly would.”

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