Navigating the new and uncharted waters of COVID-19 is creating new challenges and hardships daily for the lives of average Canadians. People who were gainfully employed are suddenly not. Businesses that were gearing up for a bountiful spring and summer season are now wondering if there will be a season at all.
There have always been social services provided by the government for people that need access to benefits. COVID-19 is now making the need for those services skyrocket.
And that is creating a new set in society of people unsure of what they qualify for and how to access these services and when they might start to provide some relief. For some people without a financial safety net, that need is imminent. Waiting for a few weeks is not feasible for people who are looking at the last can of beans on the shelf.
Some are finding relief through the Huntsville and Friends Help Out Group on Facebook.
Group administrator, Karen Patterson, said a member of the group wondered “if seniors in retirement homes were feeling vulnerable without their visitors.” She encouraged that member to reach out to some homes and that person—who discovered that there were a lot of seniors in need—is now spearheading a program that connects them with group members for some support. Sometimes it is as simple as a phone call from a member to “their” senior to remind them they are not alone. Sometimes the need has proven to be greater.
“We heard of a senior residence that has 40 residents,” Patterson said. “We brought a food box and learned that one of the residents was so thankful he was brought to tears, he had been down to his last piece of bread.”
A group member has now ‘adopted’ that seniors’ residence and will reach out to Patterson’s group if there are needs that require more immediate action.
Sometimes, Patterson’s group is needed to provide direction to members unsure of what action they can take.
“A member had contacted me as she was worried about a past client of hers that was an isolated senior,” she said. “I suggested she call to check in. As it turns out he was getting close to being in a bad place. He was on his last day of non-dry food and last bottle of potable water.”
The member has now ‘adopted’ that senior and will be checking in regularly, and Patterson said they plan to continue when the crisis is over.
Patterson said she hopes to reach isolated, vulnerable and worried people in our community, be it seniors or single mothers or families in crisis.
“There will be many people in our community who have never been in this type of situation or who had worked hard to claw their way out to stability only to find themselves back to insecurity,” she said. “Many of these people have never had to utilize community resources or seek government assistance. Others may live paycheque to paycheque. They may have no nest egg to help them through times like this. Many others, especially our seniors, may have had an already limited support system who, now due to social isolation or other reasons, can’t be there. These are the people who we are finding.”
The response to her call to action has been amazing, Patterson said. There are almost 1,000 members and the number keeps growing. This number includes both those in need and helpers. Patterson keeps a running list and as a need comes up she can reach out to a helper and inquire if they are interested, and if so, match them up.
“I even had a reach out from a woman in Toronto asking if we had any seniors down there that could use a check in,” she said.
Patterson said for the most part everything as been great, however, she recognizes that there are people who can use and abuse the system.
“We’ve been really fortunate because there have been very few instances of efforts to abuse the good intentions of the group,” Patterson said. She implores everyone who is a member to take their personal safety seriously and adds she also educates any adopters to have clear boundaries about creating an over dependence upon them as a provider.
“As much as possible, we want people to come through this with pride in their independence, resiliency and a sense of dignity,” she said. “As such, adopters are asked to do a combination of supporting the recipients to access community resources while helping with the occasional meal or item.”
Patterson said it is easier to manage when a member can adopt a single person or family rather than having one person reach out to multiple people. This way, one member has one person who they interact with who can become their partner and advocate on the site.
It is quite feasible to operate while still maintaining the social distancing rules set out by the government and health officials.
“Much contact is made virtually or by phone. Drop offs are on the porch, contact to items is limited,” she said.
Unfortunately, Patterson feels the need is just beginning. “There are already shortages and limits in the grocery store,” she said. “Soon there will be many people who can’t afford grocery stores.”
Patterson is hopeful that the initiative is sustainable if COVID-19 measures are extended for weeks or months, and adds that she hopes the “adopt-a-person” idea and the virtual social groups will continue, as she believes the need for this initiative is only going to continue to grow.
To access the group, people need only to click on the link to join the Facebook page. She adds some will need approval and others will get automatically added. Something Patterson said she has no control over, adding ,”it is a Facebook thing!”
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