You are here

Student Artists Bring Sunshine to Homebound Seniors

Tuesday, March 26, 2024
Art on student-decorated bags for the meals on wheels program. One has a giraffe, another has a cat in a hamburger. Yet another has a turtle and the phrase "I like turtles, do you?"
Some of the student-decorated lunch bags created by Madison-area students. Lunch bags are distributed through Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors enrolled through the Fitchburg Senior Center.

We all know the joy that art work– especially kids’ art work– can bring. That’s why many of us who have children in our lives in one capacity or another display kids’ art work in the most exclusive of art galleries: the refrigerator door.

It’s that joy that Mandi Miller, Volunteer Program Manager for the Fitchburg Senior Center near Madison, wanted to share. She oversees the senior center’s Meals on Wheels program. Meals on Wheels volunteers are sometimes the only contact an older person has in a day.

Miller and a volunteer, Amy Magnus, who also works as a substitute teacher, started decorating the meal bags, and the response from seniors was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.

With so many bags necessary each week (the center delivers 50-60 meals a day, five days a week), they came up with the idea to reach out to local schools and get children to decorate the bags.

Miller reached out to local educators, and many jumped on board. This school year alone, Fitchburg seniors have received bags decorated by students at Forest Edge, Chavez Elementary, Stoner Prairie Middle School, Park School of Cross Plains, and Eagle School.

lunch bag art by Eagle School middle schoolers, including a beautiful sunflower, and a very happy elephant with its trunk in the air
Middle schoolers created 

Sharon Irving, a middle school art teacher, was excited to bring the project to her students. “It's an excellent opportunity to see how art is all around us. We share art with others in small and big ways and not all art is found in museums.”

K-5 Arts Educator Marcia Beckett introduced the idea of the project by having a discussion about what a senior is. “ Many of the younger kids had not heard the word ‘senior’ before or knew what the senior center does. The children… showed pride in their work and were happy to think that someone else will see their artwork and maybe be happier because of it. The process of making art has therapeutic benefits and is a way to engage the brain in different ways. Art is a way to communicate with other people and to share our experiences and viewpoints.”

Adorable elementary student from Chavez elementary happily holds up a bag that he decorated with a black and red jester
Chavez elementary art student proudly displays his art work.

Chavez Elementary Art Teacher Nate Kirley said, “We discussed what it meant to be homebound and how our work could brighten someone's day. If students had immediate inspiration, they were free to create their own work towards that goal. [We also gave the option for students to use] quotes about happiness and sheets with jokes and riddles [which] they could transcribe and then illustrate around. Finally, we [learned about] the artist Takashi Murakami and explored how his art brings an almost delirious sense of joy. They learned a quick doodle inspired by Murakami and were free to put that in their work as well.”

Kirley said that his students walked away with a sense that their art could have an impact and do some good in the world.

Mandi Miller explained, “Maybe this seems like a small gesture, but I can tell you that the people who receive these bags are DELIGHTED to see the creativity of the children, and honestly, I believe it makes them feel a little less alone.”

“This isn’t JUST AN ART PROJECT, but also something that can be a lesson plan. To teach children about what happens as people get older, how important it is that we take care of older adults. It is a lesson in volunteerism, giving back, kindness, and giving students a taste at what civic engagement can look like. It is also a lesson in compassion. Social isolation in the older adult community is rampant, and the side effects of this isolation can be devastating for many. Socially isolated adults can use any amount of cheer we can offer.”

All who are involved are ecstatic to continue the project, and hope that it can serve as an example for schools and senior centers across the state. Art teacher Kirley sums it up: "the arts show us that there are a vast array of paths forward both personally and as a community. We just have to have the courage to take one of those paths."