Coronavirus: NASCAR team raises money for tablets to connect nursing homes with families

Matt DiBenedetto is going to be signing a lot of autographs soon. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

One of the real tragedies of social distancing, as recommended by the CDC to slow the spread of coronavirus, is the fact that many of those left at a distance have no one by their side. Over-70 Americans are the most susceptible to devastating effects of COVID-19, and many of those reside in nursing homes now locked down and quarantined to prevent outbreaks. 

The quarantining, while medically appropriate, has a social cost: many seniors can’t connect with loved ones. A NASCAR team is trying to change that for residents at two facilities in Virginia. 

Sunday morning, Wood Brothers Racing devised an innovative charity idea: put up $1,500 toward buying tablets so that residents at Landmark Center and Blue Ridge Therapy Connection in Stuart, Virginia, could connect with family members via video.

“I used to watch ‘Lockup’ on MSNBC religiously,” said Wood Brothers senior VP Jon Wood. “Remote visitation was the new thing, where the families at the jail could watch a video conference with an inmate in the jail. I’m not trying to say being in a nursing home is like being in jail, but when [the state of Virginia] made the announcement that all homes would be locked down, I thought, ‘Surely that’s what they’ll do.’ ”

But Stuart is located in a relatively rural area of southwest Virginia, and many in the nursing homes or assisted living facilities didn’t have smartphones or access to video conferencing. 

“They’re very distraught,” Wood said of nursing home residents. “They’re a forgotten group of people. The governor puts this blanket ban on [meetings]. And everybody forgets all about them and thinks they’ll be fine. There’s nobody to reassure them, to comfort them, and they can’t talk to their families.” 

Wood’s idea: an even number of iPads, with half distributed to residents and half placed in a room at the facility where family can come visit and connect with their loved ones — close, but not in contact. 

Wood Brothers upped the ante by offering a card signed by current Cup driver Matt DiBenedetto and company elders Leonard and Eddie and Len Wood. Fans could donate in $10 increments through the company’s website. 

Wood set the initial number of donations at 200 — and hit that in five minutes. He upped it to 500, 1000 … and as of midafternoon Monday, just 27 hours after launch, the drive had brought in 1,600 donations of $10 apiece, a total of $16,000 toward iPads. 

The only flaw in Wood’s plan: the autographs. “I can’t keep abusing Matt on this,” Wood said. “I can’t expect him to sign 10,000 autographs. We’re going to make it a flat donation soon.” 

Time is of the essence for Wood, meaning he isn’t shopping around for the best deal. He found refurbished iPads on Apple’s own website and ordered a couple dozen, with another 30 or 40 slated for later in the week. Word’s already gotten out that there may be pads available, and he’s already fielding inquiries from many other nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. 

It’s a gesture many teams and organizations could emulate. It wouldn’t put an end to heartbreaking scenes like this one, but it could reduce the pain of separation a touch:

To donate to the Wood Brothers’ cause, go here

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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