Earlier this summer, a group of college students felt inspired to help senior citizens who have been isolated by the pandemic. Now, their mission has spread outside of North Texas.

“It can be really scary and lonely during these times,” said Shreena Bhatt, a junior health care management major at The University of Texas at Dallas.

Bhatt, along with four other students from UT Dallas and other colleges, began brainstorming ways to reach out to residents in senior care facilities. The group, dubbed Covid Check-In, initially planned to send cards to residents, but their vision grew, Bhatt said.

“We also wanted to put together something that each and every person could receive ... their own little present,” she said.

The group decided to create care packages that include coloring and puzzle books, colored pencils, snacks and handwritten cards. Since early May, Covid Check-In has delivered over 900 care packages to senior living facilities throughout Collin County and now has roughly 80 volunteers, according to Aritra Baidya, a UT Dallas sophomore majoring in finance.

Though they are not allowed to deliver the packages directly to seniors, the reaction from the centers has been very positive, Bhatt said.

“One [senior living facility] coordinator actually told us that she really loved what we were doing because they usually get donations, but a care package ... it's an experience opening it,” she said.

The base of volunteers has grown more diverse over the past few months, Baidya added.

“We've really branched out [by] starting to [recruit] our family and friends. A lot of them were encouraged to help,” he said.

Volunteers wear masks and gloves while assembling the packages, which sit untouched for 72 hours before they are delivered to facilities, Bhatt said. Many centers also sanitize the packages themselves before handing them out, she said.

Volunteers are assigned a senior living facility in their area to “adopt” and are asked to gather donations for the items in the care packages from friends and family members. Covid Check-In provides the gift bags and tissue paper in addition to any items that may not have been collected, Baidya said. The group has set up a GoFundMe page to help with the cost of items that have to be purchased.

The group has delivered care packages across North Texas to facilities in Richardson, Plano, Flower Mound and Colleyville. One of the five founding members attends Texas Tech University and has started creating care packages for facilities in the Lubbock area, Baidya said.

“Having UTD and Texas Tech working on the same thing,” he said. “It adds a bigger impact, a bigger platform.”

Those interested in getting involved can find more information and a link to the GoFundMe on the group’s website.