* Written by Travis Winterwed
The coronavirus and its effects make this a challenging time for us all, including the local organizations who work everyday to improve our community and help those within it. The following is a look at how some of our community groups are adapting to the changes COVID-19 has forced upon us.
Harvest Food Bank
While North Island’s food bank is still providing food for those who need it, they have seen the effect of COVID-19 on food security. “The demand for food has gone up. People are getting food from anywhere and everywhere they can, including from us, so there are a lot of people coming to the food bank for the first time,” says Andy Cornell, volunteer manager of the Harvest Food Bank.
Cornell says they are following best practices to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Older volunteers have been advised to stay home while the rest of the volunteers are constantly washing their hands and practicing social distancing. “When we go to the store we talk to people from a distance. When we’re all working, we’re at separate tables so we’re not too close to each other.”
Social distancing is enforced for everyone lining up for a food box as well. “We made sure when people are lining up they’re not too close to each other so the line-up is spread out over quite a large area. Only one person is allowed in at a time. Between every client we sanitize the whole surface and everything else we were working on.”
With these precautions, Cornell hopes to keep Harvest open so it can keep everyone fed.
If Harvest closed, “there’s quite a few people who’d go hungry. The food bank is an integral part of them getting their nutritional needs met.”
However, while the food bank remains open, the thrift store has now closed.
Cornell asks that all donations be limited to food or money as they cannot accept any new items until they re-open the store.
Since Fresh Eats, a program where anybody could come and pick up free vegetables and bread, was run out of the thrift store, Cornell will be keeping the program going from the side door of the building.
People can still drop by with their own bags between noon and 2 p.m., 7 days a week, to pick up fresh produce.
Hardy Bay Senior Citizens Centre
The Seniors Centre closed on March 13th. Rosaline Glynn, President of the Hardy Bay Senior Citizens Society, says it was a difficult decision but they could see the writing on the wall. “We saw it coming so we thought we’d be proactive and close the centre. It was a very, very hard decision to make. We spent 3 years encouraging seniors to be more socially active at the Centre and now they have to go home and isolate themselves.”
Thankfully Alex Higgins approached Glynn with an idea to help alleviate that isolation. Known as the Senior’s Defense Initiative, it sees a committed group of volunteers who call seniors every day to check up on them. Higgins was talking about the possibility of the Centre closing with Glynn and suggested the idea to her. “So we started making the system and three days later we had something online and wouldn’t you know it, it got pretty popular and people really liked the idea.”
“It’s been a real community event,” says Higgins.
“What Alex has set up for us is fabulous,” says Glynn. “It’s not just ‘Hi, how are you’ and a 10 second call. People are chatting. Some people live by themselves and are glad to have someone check up on them and talk to them. There’s only so much TV you can watch,” laughs Glynn.
The Senior’s Defense Initiative is open to any senior in the community, not just members of the Senior Citizens Society. You sign up for the call list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning (250) 949-7622. You can volunteer to help out by emailing Alex at email@example.com or by calling (250) 949-0715.
The Hospital Auxiliary’s last day open was March 21 and will be closed for the foreseeable future. As many of the volunteers are a high-risk group for COVID-19, the decision was made out of concern for them. “I think we only have two volunteers who are under 70 and the rest of us are up in our 70’s with some pushing 80,” says Margaret Wilson, vice-president of the Port Hardy Hospital Auxiliary Society.
The Auxiliary is asking for people to not drop off any donations at this time. As Wilson points out, they “have no place to put them because when we’re closed, we’re not selling” and asks for everybody’s understanding. “We’ll gladly take them once we’re open but we really can’t take anything until this is over.”
So far, people have been respecting the request and not dropping anything at the door. “We’ve been very lucky,” laughs Wilson, “We’re very thankful for them not dropping items off and for understanding.”
Mental Health Office
When contacted, Island Health said that they are working in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Center for Disease Control to keep their staff and clients safe. “For clients who were previously supported in group settings, we are finding individualized ways to continue supporting them. We are using phone calls and technology like Skype and FaceTime as much as possible. Where we are still conducting intake and drop-in services, infection control practices are in place and waiting rooms have been modified to ensure people can maintain the recommended physical distance.”
They are also working with local community groups to modify programs appropriately. “For example, we are still providing a breakfast program in partnership with the Salvation Army in Port Hardy, but have changed to handing out bagged meals at the door, as opposed to the usual self-service inside the building.”