Westview adapts outreach during pandemic

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How does a community fellowship deal with the current physical distancing and self-isolation situation that everyone is facing?

Caleb Ratzlaff, the convener of Westview Christian Fellowship in St. Catharines, Ont., which also serves as the hub for the Westview Centre4Women, says staff needed to be creative to reach people in the neighbourhood during this time of change, especially because not everyone is connected to the internet.

A pod-mapping exercise took place just before physical distancing and self-isolation were enforced. Because the community is diverse, and not everyone has access to a computer, a “phone fan-out” was created so every person is connected to four other people that they could call in the event they needed help or had an emergency.

Under the direction of Jane LaVacca, the executive director of the Westview Centre4Women program, lunches are now take-out, available to anyone in need in the community. During the first week of isolation, 50 lunches were handed out daily, a number that has since increased to 88.

The basement facilities are large enough to allow for physical distancing while making the lunches while wearing face masks and gloves. Lunches are handed out through a window, with tape marking a physically acceptable distance between people in the line. The Centre’s kitchen staff is preparing food, as community members are not allowed to help at this time. As of April 14, the Centre extended its normal 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. lunch time by two hours, as the line-ups were getting too long outside.

Like many other churches, Westview has adopted livestreaming of its services using Zoom, an online videoconferencing app. For the first time in the church’s 30-year history, there was organ music for worship using a mix of old and new technologies.

Westview is an active member of the Queenston Street Neighbourhood Association that is using Zoom to check on neighbours. The neighbourhood has adopted the rainbow as its symbol for spreading cheer and encouragement in the area. Pictures of rainbows are hung in windows and rainbows are painted in suitable spots for those to enjoy who are able to walk in the area.

Inspired by friends from The Commons in Hamilton, Ratzlaff is sharing his passion for sourdough-bread baking over Zoom and a Facebook group, where beginners can support one another. He has also been featured on “Niagara in the Morning,” a local radio show, sharing positive stories of neighbourhoods finding ways to connect despite physical distancing.

Related stories:
Caring during COVID-19 crisis
Doing justice in a pandemic
Bread, masks and serving seniors

A poster explaining the Queenston Street Neighbourhood Association’s rainbow symbol campaign in St. Catharines, Ont.

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