Residents of long-term care facilities, rest homes and the homebound have been hit particularly hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many long-term care facilities have endured COVID-19 outbreaks and a significant number of residents have died as a result of the pandemic. Add this to the fact that most of those facilities have done away with family visits and the isolation that many residents are feeling is acute.

As a priest, Andrew Nelson of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Somersworth and St. Mary's Parish in Rollinsford is often called to the facilities as well as the homes of the housebound. This is also true for his counterparts in the various religious organizations that serve the Somersworth and Dover areas.

Nelson, like other priests, has seen first-hand the effects that isolation can cause and felt compelled to do something about it.

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An idea began to take shape after seeing those effects and after talking to facility directors, fellow area clergy, civic leaders, community members and parishioners.

“The main question that arose during those discussions was how do we bring the outside in," Nelson said, "when the outside can’t get out?”

The answer came in a flash of inspiration: “A Christmas Special” that was designed to not just bring cheer to those who were in isolation but also give the wider community a purpose.

According to Nelson, time was short but once the idea was solidified and a videographer found in William Rogers of Coruway Film Institute, the project came together quickly. As many community resources available were utilized in the making of the special that will be broadcast to the various facilities throughout the Dover and Somersworth area.

The majority of the filming was done in one very hectic but rewarding day, according to Nelson. Around 20 locations were visited during that one day but the special finale was recorded on a Sunday afternoon at the St. Martin’s parking lot on Maple Street in Somersworth.

The parking lot, which is rumored to be the largest Roman Catholic parking lot in New Hampshire, was filled to the brim with socially distanced cars and trucks of what seemed like the entire Somersworth faith community. As cameras rolled, those gathered sang a verse of "Holy Night" while holding candles that pierced the dark of the night.

As well as featuring many area churches which Nelson says were used in part because they had various soloists and instrumental players readily available, there are scenes from area businesses such as Harvey’s Bakery, Little Lebanon and Ross Furniture, to name but a few, all wishing residents some holiday cheer.

The 45-minute program also features some story time with Somersworth and Dover Mayors Dana Hilliard and Bob Carrier, respectively.

“The Hilltopper spirit continues to shine throughout the holiday season," Hilliard said of the project. "The St Ignatius community led by Father Andrew Nelson has brought the season to the homes and rooms of those most in need of hope in these difficult times. Mayor Carrier and I were honored to contribute to spreading the joy throughout our two communities.”

Nelson was quick to point out that although the effort was spearheaded and in many ways organized by the St. Ignatius parish, the Christmas Special is a community-wide effort and one whose 'main aim is to help residents and staff at the facilities know that they are not forgotten,” Nelson said.

You can view the Dover and Somersworth area Christmas Special in the YouTube video embedded in this article.

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