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.
As one of Winnipeg’s oldest and most historical neighbourhoods, North Point Douglas has deep roots that are grounded in Indigenous history. Geographically situated on a peninsula of the Red River, it provided a ceremonial meeting place for First Nations peoples. Now, hundreds of years later, North Point Douglas is very different in appearance, but the character and spirit of the neighbourhood remain the same.
Named after the community in which it is located, North Point Douglas Women’s Centre (NPDWC) provides resources, programming and support to residents of the area. We were able to chat with the centre’s executive director, Tara Zajac, about some of the changes that NPDWC has experienced over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since social distancing recommendations came into effect in Manitoba at the end of March, NPDWC has had to close its doors to the public but continues to provide services to the community. They have been focusing on the need for grocery and household supplies, and every Tuesday they purchase and distribute 100 hampers to community residents that include items such as food, hygiene products, diapers, baby formula, and safe sex supplies. Zajac says that they run out of hampers every week within 35 minutes.
“We’re trying to do what we can while still keeping people safe, and we decided that food was definitely the big thing,” explains Zajac. “We’re still trying to figure out how to get more food out to people, because as much as we’re like ‘wow 100 hampers,’ that just disappears so fast.”
They have put to good use the emergency funding received from United Way of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Foundation; but Zajac says that their ability to provide more supplies to the community is limited due to time, resources, and especially physical space. NPDWC operates out of a tiny, multi-coloured building about the size of a small house, so assembling and distributing 100 hampers each week in such a small location is no easy task.
“On Monday and Tuesday [our space] is packed full of hampers and there’s nowhere else to put anything even if we got more funding,” describes Zajac. “Phase two for us maybe it would be… handing out bagged lunches on other days. We are having a lot of people that when we hand out the hampers, they’re hungry there and then, and opening up the food or asking for sandwiches, because they haven’t eaten in however long.”
One characteristic of North Point Douglas that Zajac notes, is that its residents often prefer to remain within the boundaries of its 20-something blocks – an area less than half the size of the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus. While this contributes to a neighbourhood that is friendly and well-connected, it also creates a problem for access to essential supplies and resources during a pandemic.
“A lot of our community members, for whatever reason, don’t feel safe accessing resources out of our community,” explains Zajac. “So, people are really looking to us…. There’s no other real resources open in North Point Douglas, as well.”
Mama Bear Clan—NPDWC’s community foot patrol—has continued to head out three times per week, but has opted not to have its usual squad of volunteers help patrol the area while social distancing measures are in place. They have been handing out food, as well as checking on community members who live in tents along the riverbank. Zajac notes that there has been an increase in need for traditional Indigenous medicines like sage and sweet grass for use in smudging ceremonies; so Mama Bear Clan has been bringing a big smudge bowl with them for people to use as they walk the neighbourhood.
An issue that Zajac has noted while talking to community is that there seems to be a lot of confusion and misinformation around recommendations from public health officials regarding the pandemic. This has only increased since the provincial government began reopening services earlier in the month.
“We are finding more and more people seem to be confused with what’s going on – what they should be doing or shouldn’t be doing,” explains Zajac. “Most of the people that live in our community, [those] that we see, don’t have a smartphone or a computer or internet… or maybe even a home phone. So, they’re totally in the dark.”
North Point Douglas Women’s Centre understands the importance of continuing to serve as a hub for community members to remain connected throughout the pandemic. Residents have also been taking care of each other by reallocating resources to others in need, if they feel they can go without.
“When we do the hampers, we see people helping each other still,” notes Zajac. “People saying ‘you know what, I don’t need this pasta sauce. I already got a bunch – you take this…’ People give us something back and then we’re usually able to make another two to three hampers.”
As difficult as times may be, Zajac notes that the sense of community she knows and loves in North Point Douglas has remained unwavering, and perhaps has even been strengthened through the changes that have happened due to the pandemic.
“As tough as all of this is on all of us… I think because people are outside more, taking more care of their lawns or biking with their kids—that the community pride or the community relationship is actually growing,” explains Zajac. “People are getting to know each other better and trying to make the best of a really tough situation.”