Kelly Dumas and her team at Rural Ottawa South Support Services (ROSSS) have a mission to make sure rural seniors don’t feel forgotten as a result of COVID-19 and its effects on our communities.
Even before the context of a global pandemic, many seniors living in rural areas were facing social challenges that put their health and well-being at risk. Food insecurity, social isolation, lack of transportation, and inconsistent connection to others are all issues that have been amplified and worsened by the COVID-19 crisis.
“Our seniors are invisible,” says Kelly Dumas, Executive Director of ROSSS. “They live down rural routes, in places where they’re not seen. In an urban and suburban setting, you can see that your neighbour hasn’t seen anyone in days, or realize they don’t have groceries—so people pitch in and come together for them. The seniors we serve don’t have that.”
In normal times, ROSSS serves seniors and adults with disabilities to support them in living healthy, happy lives in their rural homes. This involves transportation to medical appointments, Meals on Wheels, social programs in the community, and providing assistance in their homes if it’s needed.
Soon after physical distancing guidelines were put in place by public health authorities, ROSSS started calling clients to check in and see how they could help, knowing many of their vital, in-person services were no longer possible.
ROSSS is a long-time partner of United Way, so Kelly reached out to see if United Way could help them support the residents they knew were in crisis. No stranger to reacting quickly in times of community crisis, United Way worked with ROSSS to address the issue, and find a way to reach seniors who were most in need.
“With the support of United Way, we’re able to provide three, nutritious meals a week for 25 people. We’re able to address the fact that they aren’t able to go to the grocery store with free hampers with some of the basic necessities like bread, and eggs, and milk.”
A collaborative approach to tackling the tough problems
“We think of the United Way as being the leader that brings us all together around societal issues,” Kelly says. “We’ve been able to do amazing work thanks to United Way, by advancing ways of supporting seniors and adults with disabilities through the challenges they face.”
Since Kelly and her team started delivering meals and grocery hampers, they’ve been showered with an outpouring of appreciation from their clients. Voicemail messages, notes and calls have been steadily flowing in to thank the people who are helping them survive this pandemic.
“They don’t expect the help they get. But when they do, they’re so full of gratitude that they’re seen,” says Kelly. “They know that someone has their back, is caring for them, and won’t let them fall through the cracks.”
“Sometimes you get a little weary and worn down, but hearing how many seniors are actually doing okay because of the work we’re doing in this crisis, that gives us all the energy we need to keep going,” Kelly says.
Supporting the most vulnerable, 365 days a year
For many weeks now, United Way East Ontario has been bringing together a table of public health authorities, municipalities, frontline social service agencies, corporate partners, and many others. Before the COVID-19 pandemic had started to affect Ottawa and the surrounding region, United Way pulled together this growing group to address the social needs in our communities, while public health authorities took on the health needs.
In the same way we worked together with our communities to support Syrian refugees, to recover after the 2018 tornadoes, and to rebuild after the 2019 floods, we are again working diligently to support the most vulnerable through this unparalleled event.
With so many engaged partners who are laser-focused on a common goal, we are able to respond quickly to the needs as we identify them, and ensure seniors like Linda and John are not forgotten.
“In order to be stronger together, we need to have someone like the United Way to unify us, to ensure that all the various needs are being met, and that one agency isn’t working alone in a vacuum,” Kelly says. “By either connecting us or providing leadership, United Way helps us solve some of the biggest issues that seniors and adults with disabilities face.”
*The voicemails have been shared with the permission of *Linda and *John. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.