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When asked about CFS Saskatoon, Trish St.Onge, the organization’s Executive Director’s responses demonstrate the broad scope of services that the organization provides in Saskatoon:

“CFS Saskatoon is a multi-service, mission driven organization. We have three areas of business. One is our Early Learning and Family Centre; we also have a family and community programs division, which includes a variety of groups and year-round family programming; and lastly, we have a broad and comprehensive clinical service for individuals, couples, and families”.

Family supports, programming, and clinical services—these are all areas where needs have increased as a result of COVID-19. These are also areas where service providers have had to adapt and make changes to continue to meet the needs of the people in Saskatoon that they serve.

“One of the things that is unique for us, is that more than half our revenue comes from fees, so we’re a bit like a small business in that sense. Going back to March 20th, when we got notice that schools were closing, that was the beginning of some really significant changes for us. Because our early learning centres were both located in schools they were closed. Though these centres were closed, we were invited to open one of them as a childcare centre for essential service workers—paramedics, fire fighters, police, hospital workers, and so on. Although we could open one centre, we were still running at a fraction of our capacity”.

For many in the community, employers and employees, COVID-19 has spelled layoffs and financial stress. CFS Saskatoon, though faced with these very challenges, strove to do their best to mitigate the stress of job loss: “We had to lay off 36 staff; we kept everyone on the payroll for as long as possible, and once we knew that COVID was going to last for longer than we initially thought, we asked staff, who would be willing to be laid off until we were able to call them back? We were actually able to lay off the number we needed to with that invitation”.

In addition to financial impacts, CFS Saskatoon also faced impacts due to the need for social distancing. In the area of clinical services, everything shifted to the virtual world, moving online.

“When our building closed, all of our clinical services moved online. There were huge impacts in terms of cost to equip everyone to be at home. We also moved our clinical services for those who are low-income and cannot pay to online or telephone counselling; however, the majority of people who use that service are marginalized and don’t have access to computers, phones, or privacy. So we experienced a significant drop”.

Even in the face of the major changes that COVID-19 has created, CFS Saskatoon has been able to adapt their programs to continue to provide as much quality service as possible. One example of this took place within their family and community programs:

“That team has done some amazing things over this last six months to continue to engage children, youth, and adults in their programming. Our team ran three anxiety camps virtually. They created boxes of activities that they would do each day. The team would deliver them to the kid’s door steps, and then each day they would come online in the morning and the children and youth would do their activities for the day. It was a resounding success, and an exciting example of learning new ways of providing programming”.

For community-based organizations, small business, and everyone else, COVID-19 has presented challenges and changes. But, with the challenges and changes has come innovation, new relationships, and compassion. It is important to remember to support those doing community work by supporting the organizations they work for. #UnitedApart we stay strong.

COVID-19, social isolation, and mental health—each of these experiences are connected in such a way that one can easily impact another. As many are isolated in their homes, either to maintain their health, or due to sickness, their experiences of social isolation and the impact it can have on one’s mental health become more real each day. Few organizations can speak about these issues better than Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service. Social isolation and mental health are #UNIGNORABLE.

Rita Field, Executive Director of Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service, describes the organization’s ongoing work:

“Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service is a 24/7, 365 day a year, generalist crisis service, responding to every type of crisis that comes in the direction of organization. The major categories are, families in distress, parent-teen conflict, child abuse and neglect, intimate partner violence, and seniors who are in distress or being abused; the other major area is mental health and substance abuse”.

For those facing crisis, they are also dealing with and navigating the #UNIGNORABLE issues of social isolation and mental health.

“Often the people who we serve are not connected with a support system. Isolation is something that we work to resolve, but with COVID-19, people have been asked to be more isolated. People’s options for travel and transportation have been reduced. Their options for hanging out and going for coffee, or for accessing some free services have been reduced”.

Already marginalized or isolated, those living with mental health challenges feel the loss of human connection deeply. For many, even just connecting with a friend to lend a helping hand can help provide some positivity in one’s life. Due to COVID-19, these interactions can be more difficult to access.

“We all need a balance in our lives, balancing out social interactions and having some time to ourselves. For individuals who have mental health challenges, often they can be quite introspective. For all of us as human beings the number one need is for connection. A year ago we would have been encouraging people to go out with their friends, to get out when possible, but now people have had to stay home, and their usual hang out spots look different. Too much isolation means that we can’t get the help that we need, having a laugh with someone, enjoying their company, hugging, sharing positive energy, and being reminded that the world is not such a scary place”.

A companion of crisis and social isolation is depression. Once this cycle has begun, it can be difficult to move through day-to-day life, interacting and being social. Added to this is a need to isolate to stay physically healthy from COVID-19, making isolation more likely and harder to break out of.

“If we’re already given to depression and introspection, often times other people can help us. Maybe they aren’t even addressing it directly; maybe they are just coming along to help with grocery shopping. Social isolation can remove that helping hand that supports us in practical and emotional ways”.

#UNIGNORABLE issues of social isolation and mental health can easily go hand in hand. In the context of a global pandemic, these issues can be pronounced and become more prevalent. Through agencies like Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service, people are able to access humanity, compassion, connection, kindness, and support. Each day this organization works with people to make social isolation and mental health #UNIGNORABLE.

Hunger is an #UNIGNORABLE issue that impacts the daily lives of many in our community. This is also an issue that is worsened by the impacts of COVID-19. Due to job loss, shut-downs, and distancing, people’s access to their next meal has been more challenging to come by. Although the current story is commonly one of greater needs and fewer resources, there are organizations in Saskatoon that are here to help, each and every day.

“The Saskatoon Indian and Metis Friendship Centre (SIMFC) supports Indigenous cultural distinctiveness by providing community development services that holistically support people of all ages and backgrounds,” shares Robert Doucette, Executive Director of SIMFC.

When asked about the challenges that SIMFC has faced from the beginning of COVID through to the present, Robert shares a story of responsiveness, compassion, and adaptability.

“The centre instituted an outreach food program during COVID-19 so that we could reach those in need without people making a trip to the centre. This was done to ensure that those in need were not left hungry, and to provide access to other resources like hygiene products and warm clothing. This outreach program increased our ability to reach a greater number of people who were facing hardship. If we were driving and saw that you were in need, we stopped and we helped you”.

Aside from the outreach food program, SIMFC has also assisted families, individuals, and elders with food hampers.

“Food security became our number one priority during this pandemic. All through the summer and in the fall SIMFC had the ability to assist families, individuals, and elders with food hampers, to address their food security concerns. Every Tuesday, in our August campaign we issued 920 hampers of perishable and non-perishable foods, which we estimated helped 5726 people”.

Doucette goes on to provide further examples of SIMFC’s efforts to face, respond to, and combat hunger:

“Another example, and we couldn’t have done this without the help of United Way, during the summer we were working with the Metis nation of Saskatchewan Western region 2-A, and we delivered hampers to 334 urban and rural Metis families in response to the continuing COVID-19 virus. Elders and children also received bags of items like toys and items to help keep entertained while at home”.

This work has been done in addition to the daily breakfast program that SIMFC offers. At SIMFC the most important meal of the day includes a hot coffee, a muffin or a bagel, and other breakfast items as they are available: “For people who are having problems with food security, having access to something hot will help them get through the day”.

With the holiday season fast approaching, SIMFC is also preparing to help make this time of year both special and possible for families in the community. “Growing up as a foster kid, I didn’t grow up with a lot. So, it’s always been my belief that no child or family should go without a gift or go hungry on Christmas day,” states Doucette. This is the spirit that drives the Christmas hamper program offered by the SIMFC. Even at this early stage there is a waiting list for this popular program, demonstrating the significant needs that exists in Saskatoon. Through this program, SIMFC asks children for a list, striving to provide at least one quality gift to each child in the family. They also make sure these families do not go hungry on Christmas, providing a nourishing meal with “everything that you would expect on Christmas day”.  

The #UNIGNORABLE issue, hunger, is stressed in the community as a result of COVID-19, and is made more difficult during the holiday season. Each day SIMFC works to address and combat this issue, providing outreach food hampers, providing daily meals, servicing urban and rural community members, and providing Christmas hampers. This is an organization that is working to making hunger #UNIGNORABLE.

Poverty, social isolation, homelessness, unemployment, domestic violence, hunger, education inequality, and mental health are all #UNIGNORABLE issues that our community faces. Sheri Benson, CEO of United Way Saskatoon and Area, reflects on how the pandemic impacts organizations and those most vulnerable in our community. She shares how organizations and donors have faced these challenges, worked together, and pooled resources to address these #UNIGNORABLE issues. As we have seen, as COVID cases increase, organizations like Prairie Harm Reduction, White Buffalo Youth Lodge, The Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre, The Bridge and others have been pushed to close their doors. To support our community, we can support our local caring organizations.

“When COVID began the challenge we faced was to support frontline heroes and organizations to be able to stay open and to continue to provide services to those folks who were vulnerable. Because of the generosity that people have in the community, we were in a position to be able to rapidly respond to get resources out to those communities and those agencies. That meant that services that people relied on were there when they needed them”.

“Many vulnerable people in our community count on front line community services, like Saskatchewan Indian and Metis Friendship Centre, Catholic Family Services Saskatoon, and Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service. People really count on those services, and need to count on them more so now than ever, because when you’re faced with issues like poverty and homelessness, the impact of a pandemic, for lots of people, but especially for the most vulnerable, can mean life or death”.

Helping agencies stay open and continue to provide services in ways that have been safe for both those accessing services and for those providing services has been a priority and an important part of supporting Saskatoon’s most vulnerable. In response to COVID, there have also been larger initiatives, and major demonstrations of generosity and cooperation.

“We work cooperatively and collectively with a large group of community agencies and other funders through the Saskatoon Inter-Agency Response to COVID-19, which was a chance for those in the charitable sector and in the non-profit sector to get together to galvanize all those resources we have to make sure that those who were vulnerable weren’t left behind”.

“It’s important for everyone to know the extra challenges that are being faced by local caring agencies who are helping vulnerable folks in our community. For those of us who can be generous, that is one way we can make sure those organizations, regardless of a pandemic, are there to help folks. We also want to help ensure that when we start to recover, that we have that caring, connected group of agencies being strong and healthy”.

One of the major challenges faced by front line organizations, and by the most vulnerable people they help, has been increased needs and diminished capacity to meet those needs. During times like this it is more important than ever that we work together, lend a helping hand and demonstrate unwavering support and generosity to those most vulnerable and those serving them. By coming together, by cooperating, and by caring for one another, we are #UnitedApart.

Paige Gignac2020 Holiday Giving