As a community research project, one of the ways we are contributing during the pandemic is by sharing some of the great work that our partners are doing to help families during this stressful time; both for the purposes of building awareness, and also to demonstrate the resiliency of Point Douglas. As you’ll read throughout these blog posts, it comes as no surprise to anyone that our community has responded in a selfless and dependable way — working hard to make sure that families are supported when they need it most.
We’ll be interviewing and profiling a different community organization, group or individual each week with the intent to share a different viewpoint than you’ll find in the mainstream media – a community perspective on the current situation surrounding COVID-19, and beyond.
This week we’re talking about another community organization providing crucial support and services in the Point Douglas neighbourhood throughout the pandemic — Andrews Street Family Centre (ASFC). Located at 220 Andrews Street, the Centre has been connected to the community for over 20 years, continuously serving 400+ families and more than 1000 individuals. The Winnipeg Boldness Project has worked with ASFC on several prototypes over the past few years, given their strong involvement with the Point Douglas community. Dilly Knol, the Executive Director of the Centre, shared key information on how they are responding to community needs during this unprecedent time.
When the spread of COVID-19 was declared a pandemic (a worldwide spread of a new disease), local governments began communicating recommended public health guidelines; and so organizations and institutions started making decisions to protect community members, staff and volunteers.
On March 18, ASFC had to pause much of their regularly scheduled programming in order to follow social distancing guidelines. Their Parenting Programs, Family Nights, Soup Days, Pritchard Place programs, Aboriginal Head Start programs and all other services were put on hold, but the centre is far from closing its doors.
They have been as busy as usual, but now focus instead on providing help with emergency food and baby supplies, offering support over the phone, and serving lunch for over 120 people per day. To avoid people coming inside the building, orders are taken through a window food is handed out through the door. Knol recognizes that despite all the changes related to COVID, community members are doing really good in keeping distance from each other, properly disposing all food packaging and keeping clean the area surrounding the Centre. Family members take turns picking up lunches; one person comes while everyone else stays at home.
With only 13 staff, the Centre managed to keep up serving coffee in the morning and lunch in the afternoon, seven days a week for about a month. Recently, however, they realized that maintaining this pace was beyond their capacity. The Centre was forced to lay off some staff members who were at high-risk of contracting the virus, in order to protect them and the community from being exposed. “We don’t want to take any chances because we need to stay healthy here in order to continue giving food out”, said Knol, consistently maintaining focus on the community’s wellbeing.
Now food is cooked and served Monday to Friday only. Every day is a different menu: sandwiches, meatballs, salad, macaroni casserole, potatoes, pulled pork, and shepherd’s pie, to mention a few; and always accompanied by fruit and juice packs. About 60 kids and 60 adults are fed every day with nutritious meals, which requires logistics beyond cooking; staff have to do bulk shopping for groceries, produce, and packaging.
Aside from serving lunches, Andrews Street Family Centre provides emergency food and baby supplies. Families can call over the phone or knock the door when they need to talk or need emergency packages, with an estimated 30 packages being handed out every day.
For families enrolled in the Centre’s regular programming, family packs were sent to their homes. The packs included puzzles, games, activity books, coloring books, color pens, crayons, dice, and cards. The Centre also makes sure that families get updated copies of health guidelines, and information on activities they can do online.
The priority for Andrews Street Family Centre right now, is to provide support for families to keep them together and away from crisis. “We continue ‘facebooking’ them. We know them and want to make sure they are doing ok,” Dilly says, emphasizing the importance of checking on every family’s wellbeing, due to the additional stress that the pandemic is adding to their lives and pre-existing anxieties. “We want families to keep connected and we want them to know that if they need something, we are here for them.”
Many families in the North End community don’t have the privilege of driving vehicles and going from store to store to find the household items they need, such as toilet paper or cleaning products. Families often have to take cabs to the grocery store, so if the products they need are out of stock or limited in quantity, they have to take another cab to other stores, or go home without all the items they need. Additionally, there are many health concerns related to taking cabs or using public transportation during the pandemic. Knol encourages the community to not take their kids with them while shopping for groceries. She has seen that some neighbours are taking turns watching the kids while parents go shopping.
The stress and uncertainty of the pandemic is one of the main challenges affecting the community right now; information is not always clear, and often changes daily. “Nobody knows what the virus is really, or how it affects us. Not knowing if they can go out or not, or for how long this will be the reality, makes it harder to manage.” Knol said, recognizing the effect that stress can have on families. She has been encouraging everyone to go out for a walk and hoping that the summer weather may help with mental health and dealing with anxiety.
“We are very proud of our North End community. It’s amazing that in general [the] community has followed the guidelines and really stayed home, despite how hard it could be for everyone. Everyone is taking it seriously in our neighbourhood. They have been very respectful and grateful. They know we are here, and if they need us, they phone us or knock our door.”
Andrews Street Family Centre can be contacted at 204-589-1721 or through Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/asfcwpg/