It’s well recognized by Family Councils throughout the province that staff within their Long-Term Care homes have worked tirelessly since the very beginning of the pandemic. Their daily reality includes an increase in workload, staff shortages caused by illness/quarantine, the lack of newcomers entering into healthcare, and the ongoing emotional strain for both themselves – and the residents they care for – of contracting the virus. These realities were the drivers for our Family Council to find a way to formally recognize the ongoing sacrifices made by Mount Hope staff.
Due to pandemic protocols, thoughts of a council hosting a Staff Appreciation gathering were simply not an option. Furthermore, the lack of funding available to pay for this type of staff appreciation initiative, made this goal appear that much more unattainable.
For a number of months, our Family Council struggled with ideas on how best to show appreciation to staff. Ideas ranged from personalized cards, message boards placed on resident floors, flower arrangements and candy bags. All these ideas had merit. However, as we flushed out the details, each seemed to pose their own unique roadblocks. At the end of the day we needed to find a way of recognizing staff which met a number of criteria. For example, it had to be logistically feasible; pandemic-friendly; affordable; sensitive to staff privacy; and, something that would capture all staff – not just those who were tied to individual locations within the facility (i.e. Facilities, Linen Service, Spiritual Care, etc.).
Eventually we gravitated to the idea of baking homemade Christmas cookies. We envisioned each of Mount Hope’s 400+ staff receiving an individually wrapped package of Christmas cookies along with a note of gratitude. The issues of cost, adhering to pandemic protocols, and the sheer volume of cookies required, were now the key challenges we had to overcome. One more crucial point…we needed to find a cookie recipe that would make us proud!
In early December, I found what I hoped was the perfect recipe. With fingers crossed, my wife and I baked a ‘test batch’ and distributed the cookies among my fellow council members for their candid feedback. Fortunately, the results were unanimous – we nailed it… these were indeed great cookies! With this
hurdle behind us, we could now begin to iron out the challenges which lay ahead to successfully pull this off. It’s worth noting… neither members of our council nor I are professional bakers. This truly was a ‘we’ll-figure-it-out-as-we-go’ exercise!
The first matter at hand, how many cookies did we need to bake? This was not a question of simple math. Assuming three cookies per bag, factoring in burnt cookies, broken cookies, and of course cookie consumption along the way to ensure quality control…, we estimated needing to bake – in total – approximately 1,500 cookies.
Given this volume, the idea of individual council members each baking a portion of the total needed wasn’t a viable option. Besides, we needed to be extremely aware of pandemic protocols and ensure a uniformed consistency of product across the board. Fortunately, through the generosity of a local church, we were able to secure the use of an industrial kitchen at no cost. Now on to our next hurdle – cost.
The recipe I found yielded roughly 40 cookies. To hit our production target of 1,500 cookies, the required ingredients had to be multiplied a whopping 38 times! This translated into 57 bricks of butter; 76 cups of sugar; 19 dozen eggs; 30 kgs of flour and 18 kgs of icing sugar. Not to mention all the other special ingredients needed to create our signature taste. We were able to absorb these costs through a number of ways – council members donated ingredients; we secured a donation from a local grocery store; and, we had the help of an anonymous donor within our Family Council network.
With the kitchen secured, and ingredients on hand, we were now ready to begin production. To ensure social distancing we scheduled volunteers in shifts of no more than two at one time. Thankfully our access to the kitchen spread over three days and two nights which helped to make this possible. In order to keep all the balls in the air I was committed to being on site the entire time. This was not a sacrifice. Quite the opposite. It was an opportunity to get to know many of my fellow council members on a more personal level. We shared many laughs and made some amusing memories!
Midway through our cookie marathon we hit a good rhythm. In fact, there was a point where ingredients were being mixed, dough was being formed into cookies, cookies were in the oven, other cookies were cooling, still more cookies were being decorated and some earlier batches were being packaged – ALL AT THE SAME TIME. In the final stretch the 400 cookie packages were sorted into sixteen groupings for distribution throughout the facility. Tied on the outside of each package was our thank you card. Included with the message of gratitude was a brief description of our Council’s purpose, contact information, and a complete list of ingredients for those with food allergies.
In the end, I’m happy to report that besides having to replace two burned out hand mixers, our baking marathon was a success! We achieved our targets and had a great time along the way. We even had cookies left over to provide a thank you to the church and grocery store who supported our efforts. We also were able to create additional cookie packages for members of Mount Hope’s Resident’s Council.
The following morning, once all was done (and cleaned), council members arranged to meet in the lobby of Mount Hope to help distribute the cookies. It was particularly heartwarming for council members to be able to deliver the cookies to the floor where their loved one lived. Despite this initiative taking a fair amount of coordination and effort, in the end it was absolutely worth it. We heard from many staff who were very touched by the effort. We also believe this initiative significantly heightened our profile within.
Mount Hope. Last, but certainly not least, it provided our Family Council with an opportunity to have fun and create some deeper bonds of friendship.
I hope this narrative, and pictures taken along the way, captures the spirit of our initiative. We also hope it provides you with some inspiration on how your Family Council can participate in a fun, pandemic-friendly, initiative to recognize the hardworking staff of your own Long Term Care home.
Remember, cookies are always appreciated, any time of the year!