Saint Andrews volunteers help seniors face pandemic challenges

·4 min read
Saint Andrews volunteers help seniors face pandemic challenges

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic put Saint Andrews' residents on edge.

The threat of the disease loomed large over the community of about 1,800 — where seniors are the majority, and more vulnerable to the illness.

Residents followed Public Health guidelines to stay home and limit contact. But similar to other small towns and rural areas of the province, there were challenges.

There were no grocery or medication delivery services, and for people living alone, loneliness began to creep in.

Mayor Doug Naish said it was clear a solution was needed.

"It became apparent that many people were feeling very vulnerable about even going to get essential services," he said.

Town staff worked to gather more than 60 volunteers to make wellness check-in calls and deliver groceries.

That effort scaled back over the summer months, as COVID-19 case numbers declined. But when the second wave hit New Brunswick — life changed overnight.

Saint Andrews was forced to back to orange phase restrictions in late November as part of the Zone 2 health region. That meant maintaining a single household bubble and keeping some seniors home alone.

Volunteers relaunched the program, which has continued after returning to the yellow phase.

'You need to have someone'

The community's efforts include making sure no one feels alone.

It started with an initial list of vulnerable people that quickly grew, as residents mentioned neighbours to call.

Guy Groulx is a town councillor and helps schedule the check-ins to vulnerable people.

"We want to make sure they're managing through this crisis well," he said. "And a lot of this is not just physical. It's emotional well-being. To know that there's a support network behind you."

Volunteers make phone calls ranging from a few minutes to half an hour, where people are asked how they're doing and if they need anything. Demand has been steady, with as many as 65 calls in a single day.

"Some people are worried, some are concerned," Groulx said. "And having that personal call and reassure them and ask if they need anything — I think it goes a long ways."

Naish said those calls are an important part of the program.

"It's great to get your drugs, it's great to get your prescriptions, it's great to get your food," he said. "But if you're feeling vulnerable, and unhappy and depressed — and I think people are in some cases that way — you need to have someone, a friendly voice, to call you and talk to you."

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

'I get a lot of hope'

Grocery orders from the local store are collected and delivered each afternoon. A few dozen volunteers work daily shifts of two weeks on, two weeks off.

The service started with just the grocery store and pharmacy. But when word got out that a senior needed a tea kettle — the hardware store was added.

Sue Lister co-ordinates the orders with the store and volunteer drivers.

"It's what we do here. It's our community and you give back to your community as soon as you can," she said. "So that's what I'm doing it for."

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

More than 800 bins have been delivered since the start of the pandemic.

For seniors in Saint Andrews — it's making a difference.

Jane Doull is a semi-retired church minister and has been receiving wellness calls and grocery deliveries during both waves of the pandemic.

"I think people are very aware they don't want anything to go wrong with our senior population here, who are the most vulnerable with COVID," she said.

It tells me something about the community we have, and the community we will have even after this pandemic is over. - Jane Doull, Saint Andrews resident

Doull said a lot of seniors have learned how to use technology to stay in touch. But the orange phase was a challenge.

Some have family in the area to help them out, but people like Doull who moved to the area have no relatives nearby to lend a helping hand. That's an absence the tight-knit community of Saint Andrews has filled with neighbours stepping in.

"I think they're the kind of things that make one very glad that one's living in the community such as this," Doull said. "I guess for me that's where I get a lot of hope. Because it tells me something about the community we have, and the community we will have even after this pandemic is over."