Seniors in nursing home making music with rhythm instruments as musical therapy

When assisted living facilities, memory care homes and hospitals began limiting visits and shutting their doors to the public amid the outbreak of COVID-19, the creative minds at the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance knew there was a need to fill.

Not only would friends and family no longer be able to visit, but SAACA could no longer supply its programming. The nonprofit provides regular art therapy, and the Music and Memory program puts mp3 technology in the hands of retirees who could use a blast from the past.

Now, that support comes in the form of care packages compiled with help (and donations) from the creative community.

“Most of us have the capacity to go outside into our backyards or front yards, take a walk and enjoy our surroundings and get a little bit of respite, but that’s genuinely not the case for so many people here in Southern Arizona, and they happen to be the most at-risk,” said SAACA Executive Director Kate Marquez.

With a goal in mind, Marquez reached out to some of her community partners to gauge their interest in creating care packages for those facing long-term isolation.

Some of that support came from Bookmans Entertainment Exchange, which donated books, CDs, poetry kits, origami packets, coloring pages from local artists, art supplies and more.

As Bookmans, we want to help our community out as much as we can, even if our doors are closed right now,” said Bookmans Community Manager Coordinator Stephanie Engs. “I see a lot of older folks that come into our stores, and we wanted to reach out to that part of the community.”

In addition to the supplies from Bookmans, the care packages included greeting cards, jewelry, journaling kits and hands-on craft materials. Roughly 50 artists, musicians and organizations contributed materials, ranging from Tucson Art Lab to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Donated supplies were sanitized multiple  times, Marquez said, in addition to safety precautions taken by recipients. 

Care packages were dropped off to local assisted living communities and healthcare facilities on Monday, April 27. The first to receive care packages included the Southern Arizona Veterans Administration Campus, Catalina Springs Memory Care in Oro Valley and the Joey and Annette Medina Aguilera Home. Additional drop offs took place at Fountains of La Cholla and Foothills Place. 

The care packages not only included supplies and arts and crafts ideas for residents, but meals for healthcare workers and caregivers.

Supplying food for the first round of drop offs was The Lodge at Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club, which prepared lasagna, fresh pecan pies, caesar salad and stuffed eggplant.

Whether it was food or arts and crafts supplies, the donations make a huge difference in the lives of those who receive them, according to Southern Arizona VA Voluntary Service Chief Mandy Martell.

A donation was dropped off at Southern Arizona VA Health Care System on South Sixth Avenue Monday, April 27, and given to patients at the Community Living Center, an extended care facility which provides medical, nursing, rehabilitation and other support services for limited and long-term stay.

With a lack of visitors due to COVID-19, Martell said the care packages keep veterans engaged.

“Right now, they’re not even allowed to get together for group activities because we’re practicing social distancing here,” Martell said. “A lot of the art in the care packages were individualized, so the patient can do them right at the bedside...I thought it was very thoughtful and generous of them to think of our patients.”

SAACA was able to make its first round of donation thanks to immediate support from the local community, but they’re not done yet. Marquez said the organization plans on continuing the care package program as more and more people reach out to help.

If you’re interested in getting involved, contact Marquez at

“We definitely are going to need some sustained support from the community,” she said.