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Omaha nursing home resident continues hat business despite pandemic

Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 5:32 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Because of the coronavirus pandemic, several nursing homes have stopped letting visitors come through their doors. At one Millard facility, that meant one of its residents couldn’t run her business as usual.

Merna Priestley has lived at the Good Samaritan Society Nursing Home for more than a decade.

In 2013 she started a business of making and selling hats to the staff, residents, and visitors to the nursing home. Each year she makes about 75 hats using a loom she keeps in her room. One year she made about 100. She says she can finish one hat per day if she puts her mind to it.

Typically, Merna sells her hats from a table set up in the lobby.

“And when it gets cold and they come in a say ‘hey I know where you got that hat’ and they laugh, they seem to love it,” Merna said, laughing at the memories.

It’s a tradition she and many others enjoy, but in 2020 it just couldn’t continue.

“This year was totally different with following guidelines and having to shut our doors at any moment, so it was all about marketing and getting the word out,” said Activities Director, David Castillo.

Castillo says he and the leadership team at the nursing home wanted to help Merna continue her hat business during the pandemic, so he shot a video, starring Merna and her hats, and he sent it out to residents and their families.

Almost immediately people started calling in orders and 43 hats later, they sold out and Merna pocketed the cash.

“It was almost a daily occurrence for probably a week where I would visit her daily and drop off money because people would come and pick up their hats,” said Castillo.

“David stepped right up and did a good job. I was glad to see him every time he’d come to my room with money,” said Merna, laughing.

Castillo said during such a rough year, it’s important to help the residents maintain some sense of normalcy, and helping Merna sell her hats was one way to do that.

Merna plans to continue her hat business as long as she can, and hopefully, she’ll be face to face with her customers again next year.

Many residents a the Good Samaritan Society Nursing Home are able to communicate with their loved ones through FaceTime, Zoom, and even window visits to keep spirits high, but Castillo encourages you to write letters and reach out to the residents, especially during this holiday season, with a greeting or two to put a smile on their faces.

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