FARGO — Physically, mentally and emotionally, senior citizens nationwide have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. One couple in Fargo started a new business in an attempt to combat the mental and emotional burdens the pandemic has placed on seniors.

Beau and Nicole Kashmark created Golden Comfort Crates, a subscription gift box service based in Fargo, to help families and seniors connect in a COVID-19-friendly fashion.

"My wife is a physical therapist. She works with elderly people and she was always coming home from work and talking about how all of her patients were super lonely and felt a lot of loneliness because they hadn't seen their families in a long time," Beau Kashmark said.

Seeing the hardships seniors have faced "just got us to thinking about what we could do to help elderly people and their families," Kashmark continued.

After they were unable to find a similar option online, the couple launched Golden Comfort Crates, which offers subscription boxes on a monthly or quarterly basis, as well as for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries or holidays.

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The crates contain snacks for any dietary restrictions, books, puzzles and a rotating monthly surprise item. Senders can also submit up to 10 photos and a letter, which are printed and included in the boxes.

A sample Golden Comfort Crate created by Nicole and Beau Kashmark is seen with snacks, photos and notes to family members on Thursday, Feb. 25, in Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
A sample Golden Comfort Crate created by Nicole and Beau Kashmark is seen with snacks, photos and notes to family members on Thursday, Feb. 25, in Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

Lastly, the crates contain 5-by-7-inch "golden memory" cards, which ask different questions for seniors to answer and send back to their families in a pre-stamped envelope. "That's actually been our biggest hit so far," Kashmark said.

Even Kashmark found himself learning more about his grandparents. In a previous crate, the golden memory card asked seniors about their weddings, which Kashmark said he had never heard stories about.

"It's pretty cool because I got one back from my grandma and I didn't know anything about her wedding," he said. "I never thought to ask her."

Monthly boxes cost $40 per shipment, while quarterly boxes cost $42. For couples, the monthly and quarterly charges are $50 and $52, respectively. One-time boxes are available for $44 for individuals and $54 for couples.

The first crates were shipped in February. The Kashmarks are aiming to grow their presence in the Fargo-Moorhead area, but Golden Comfort Crates are available nationwide. "Everyone says they love the idea," Kashmark said.

Subscription boxes have proven to be a potential lucrative business as well. According to a 2018 study from consulting firm McKinsey and Co., subscription box sales rose 100% from 2011 to 2016, with some of the largest vendors generating nearly $2.6 billion in sales.

McKinsey's research also found that 15% of consumers had purchased a subscription box in the past year, while 46% reported subscribing to a media service.

Subscription boxes have even drawn the attention of huge national brands. In 2016, conglomerate Unilever paid $1 billion for Dollar Shave Club, a subscription box for razors.

When COVID-19 permits, Kashmark said he hopes to partner with nursing homes as well to get more boxes to seniors. It's one of the challenges the pandemic has created for his startup business.

"At the nursing homes, it'd be nice to just pop in and ask for someone to talk to and have a meeting with, but you can't just go into nursing homes right now," he said.

Another potential challenge, he said, has been sourcing. February's boxes were delayed, though he ultimately received them on time to ship them out while the Valentine’s Day theme was still fresh.

Beau anticipates that access to nursing homes and elderly care facilities will remain limited for now.

"I don't think we're going to be back to super normal, especially with nursing homes, for quite a while," he said.

The Kashmarks' ultimate goal with Golden Comfort Crates is to help families connect despite the pandemic.

"We're trying to get the word out so we can help as many seniors right now as we can," Beau said.