Reprieve from the Pandemic

ECF grant provides reprieve to women and children in crisis during the pandemic

“When COVID-19 hit,” Elaine Roche said regretfully, “we just couldn’t serve at capacity in order to keep everyone safe.”

Roche is a manager within Children, Family, and Community Services at Edmonton Catholic Social Services. As such, her portfolio includes two homes that house women and children at risk due to homelessness, for those fleeing domestic violence, and those in crisis.

Valeda House has six beds available, and the average stay is six months while women receive safe accommodations and support to get their lives on track. The focus is on helping pregnant women, and those who have just given birth.

Katherine Drexel Place has 16 units and is a supportive transitional home available for longer stays for women and children fleeing violence, or women who have experienced trauma or lack safe affordable housing, keeping them from reaching their goals.

The pandemic put very vulnerable women in an even more difficult financial situation. For Roche and her team, in rethinking how to support their clients and adjust to the new protocols, it was decided that alleviating food insecurity was a top priority.

For instance, at Valeda House, there are individual bedrooms, but the kitchen is communal. That meant a slight reduction in beds available, but also a change in to how to keep supporting women nutritionally and emotionally, when a sense of community is the backbone of rest and recovery.

“Some women work two to three jobs just to make ends meet. And when you’re relying on the food bank at the best of times…,” Roche said.

Edmonton Catholic Social Services received its requested Rapid Response Grant of  $15,000 allocated for food security for its clients at these two facilities. Women were encouraged to ask for whatever foods and ingredients they wanted to have and to cook with. And culinary encouragement, in the forms of recipe and cooking advice, was offered.

“The best food relief is combined with connections to other supports and learning opportunities that can extend the benefit beyond one meal,” Craig Stumpf-Allen, ECF’s Director of Grants and Community Engagement says. “This is what staff at Valeda House and Katherine Drexel Place could provide.”

Roche says that initially there was a period of disbelief among the women at the shelter that their food needs were going to be met while they were there.

At Valeda House, staff assisted women in connecting with WECAN Food Basket — an Edmonton nonprofit bulk purchasing grocery program for low-income individuals and families — to obtain grocery gift cards. It’s a connection that will continue to support women long after they leave Valeda House.

One resident confided how helpful this was, in the face of ETS fares being reinstated during COVID-19. “Now I did not have to choose between healthy food and transportation this month,” she told staff.

At Katherine Drexel Place, staff picked simple recipes from the Basic Shelf, a cookbook that helps stretch a food budget. Staff then purchased all the ingredients and provided clients with recipes to try in their own suites. One remark stood out. One woman said, ”I enjoyed learning a new recipe that is different from the ones that I know how to make from my own country.”

“It actually took a little while,” Roche said, “but as the food kept consistently being replenished, they were like, ‘Wow.’ ”

Roche says that the focus has been on fresh fruit and vegetables, and meats. But also it has been apparent that these women were not used to feeling that they could choose the foods and ingredients they wanted.

“This virus has been tough on a lot of us, but especially when the isolation is high,” Roche said. ”Many of our women are dealing with so much as it is. You find that it really challenges your positive coping skills. Anything that we can do to lessen their anxieties and worries goes a long way.

“This has been a blessing like you cannot believe.”

Learn more about ECF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic here.