CLEVELAND — Many of us have felt lonely since the start of the pandemic, and that has been especially true for those living in assisted living. A Uniontown woman is gathering donations for cuddle buddies to help seniors feel less alone. 

What You Need To Know

  • Diane Donaldson asked for donations of stuffed animals and dolls for her birthday recently

  • She's now delivered about 200 cuddle buddies to nearby assisted-living centers

  • Warmus Senior Living Communities said it's been a big contribution in helping the mental health of seniors living in assisted living

Diane Donaldson walks into her garage, gloves up and gets to work sanitizing her stuffed friends. 

“There’s cats and dogs, there’s baby dolls which have been a big hit for the ladies, and we’ve even had some zebras and elephants. I mean, you name it, you can pretty much find it,” said Donaldson.  

The physical therapist assistant and grandmother packages up what she calls cuddle buddies — part of a solution to a problem she realized was spreading, along with COVID-19. 

“As COVID swept through the assisted facilities, loneliness became as rampant as the virus. And so, I woke up one morning just crying and praying, ‘How can I make this better?’ You know, I get to go into these facilities. What can I do?” 

She loads the cuddle buddies up and walks to her car, determined to make a difference for seniors impacted by the pandemic. 

“When they finally opened up the doors again after the virus started, and we could get in there and do some physical therapy, the patients were suffering physical decline (and) a mental decline. They were missing their families, and they were actually saying, ‘I need to see my family,'" said Donaldson. “It just really tore at my heartstrings and I wanted to figure out how I can make this a little better for them.” 

For her birthday, Donaldson used platforms like Facebook to ask family and friends for donations of cuddle buddies for her birthday. And so far, about 200 cuddle buddies have put smiles on faces.

Donaldson walks into GreenView Senior assisted living. Spectrum News 1 wasn't allowed in because of COVID-19 restrictions, but video taken by the staff shows how the cuddle buddies brighten the day of those living there, like Ed. 

"It doesn’t take the place of your family, but it can just make you feel a little bit less lonely,” Donaldson told Ed.  

Outside, Donaldson chats with owner Jane Warmus and Jennifer Jesser-Ringer with Warmus Senior Living Communities. They're happy for the help.

“And it just provided love. It provided special, individual attention, and more importantly, they just knew that someone was thinking about them. Her birthday project wasn’t about her; it was about our residents at GreenView," said Jesser-Ringer.

And for Donaldson, she hopes to continue delivering cuddle buddies to those living in assisted living, putting a smile not just on their faces, but also her’s.

"It just makes my heart so happy because I know one day, I’m going to be in their shoes, and I hope that someone will pay that back to me and take away my loneliness, so it really makes me feel good.” 

A little buddy making a big difference in helping seniors feel less alone.

Donaldson’s family members, including her grandchildren, have also helped sanitize and package the cuddle buddies.