A chance meeting organized by a local church has grown into a meaningful friendship over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last winter, Grace United Methodist Church in Spencer, Iowa started an Adopt-A-Friend program to ensure parishioners who were unable to leave their home during the pandemic were in regular contact with others.
Inspired by the program, Marietta Smith-Johnson adopted 20 friends.
“I was one of the ones who brought up starting the program,” Marietta says. “I was concerned that many of our elderly members needed contact. What we were supposed to do was mail a card or a note to them each week. I’m a card sender, so I adopted 20 friends.”
The names Marietta picked were at random. One of the envelopes she opened contained contact information for 92-year-old Mary Lundt. With no family in the area, the widow still lived in her own home and had little interaction with anyone once stay-at-home guidelines were implemented.
“I didn’t know Mary at all, even though we were both members of the church,” Marietta says. “She was one of only two of those I drew that I didn’t know. I started mailing her in November and she called me almost right away to tell me how meaningful it was to hear from me because she was so alone.”
The two sparked up a quick friendship after the call. They spoke infrequently on the phone—maybe three times in three months—but Marietta continued to write letters and send cards. Their friendship continued to grow despite the fact the neither had ever laid eyes upon the other.
“I really had no clue about her family history or who she was prior to this,” Marietta says. “We had never even seen each other, to our knowledge. I had no idea what she looked like, and she had no idea what I looked like.”
The first face-to-face meeting was arranged when Mary was in need of assistance getting to an appointment at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s
in Sioux City, some 90 miles from her home in Spencer. With few options for transportation, Mary picked up the phone and called a number she was told might offer some help.
“The church office suggested Mary reach out to my husband, Brad,” Marietta recalls. Like Marietta, Brad is very active in the church and even drives the church van for various events. “She called and when I picked up the phone, she told me who it was, and I said, ‘oh my gosh, I’ve been sending cards to you!’”
Mary explained her situation, and without hesitation, Marietta agreed that she and Brad would help out. At 6 a.m. on February 11, the two new friends finally met.
“On that trip over we were going 60 miles an hour,” Marietta says, speaking figuratively of how quickly their friendship bloomed on the car ride to Sioux City. “It was like we were lifelong friends and we had known each other forever. And to think the only thing we had really shared were a few phone calls and some letters. It’s wonderful.”
And it wasn’t just Marietta who connected with Mary.
“Even though Mary was technically my friend on that first drive over, she has become Brad’s friend now too,” Marietta says. “We were so happy to do it. She has been a joy.”
In addition to supplying a ride, Marietta and Brad went the extra mile after getting Mary to her appointment. When asked if they would be willing to stick around during the procedure, Marietta and Brad assured Mary they would. The couple wanted Mary to know they were more than chauffeurs; they were her support people and a couple of familiar faces to greet her when the procedure was done.
In the weeks since their first official meeting, Marietta, Brad and Mary have remained in contact. Marietta and Brad have continued to look out for Mary to ensure that she has someone to connect with and that her needs are being met. For such a simple act as giving someone in need a ride, Marietta says she has been paid back tenfold by getting to know such a wonderful woman.
“I guess my purpose in life is to do what I can while I’m here,” Marietta says. “I know during COVID things have been very difficult, for older people especially. All I want to do is help them in any way I can.”