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The ladies of S.W.A.N. find ways to help amid pandemic (4 photos)

Local group rallies community to obtain much-needed personal protective equipment for LOFT Community Services

Every year, the ladies of S.W.A.N. (Successful Women Always Networking) Bradford choose a community charity and turn their formidable fundraising talents toward making a significant contribution.

Last year, they raised over $7,000 for CrossTrainers Canada, its ministries, A Hand-Up Clothing Room and The Hub youth drop-in centre.

This year, they were set to do the same for The LOFT Community Services, which operates Bradford House for Seniors at risk of homelessness.

Then COVID-19 hit.

S.W.A.N. went from meeting monthly, in space provided by the Bradford Legion, to meeting virtually on ZOOM - and from planning a major fundraiser like last year’s ‘Glow Party,’ to raising barely $300 through a $10 donation from each membership and renewal.

“Three hundred dollars, compared to some of the numbers we’ve had…,” lamented President Natasha Leskiw.  

They called Bradford House’s Program Director, Carolyn Donaldson, to apologize, and to promise that The LOFT will remain S.W.A.N.’s charity of choice through 2021, when hopefully the pandemic will end and the last restrictions will be lifted.

They also asked if there was any way that they could help the 50 or so residents of Bradford House during these difficult times.

The answer: “Well, we could use PPE.”

Personal Protective Equipment, especially face masks, is in high demand, not only for the staff at Bradford House, who provide support and assistance to the vulnerable seniors, but for the residents themselves.

“We’ve been very diligent, supporting our residents through COVID,” Donaldson explained.

LOFT Community Services has introduced new cleaning protocols, followed best practices that include no staff transfers between facilities, and has brought in extra people to help remind residents to wear masks when they leave Bradford House and practise physical distancing.

“We’re reimagining work in the community to keep our staff and the community safe,” she said.

The number of residents accommodated at Bradford House has also been reduced.

“With COVID, we’ve made sure we have isolation spaces, just in case,” Donaldson explained. Residents who need to go to hospital are isolated when they return, and tested for COVID-19.

And now that visitors are once again allowed, “we just take extra precautions,” Donaldson said, limiting visits to designated areas that can be  cleaned and sanitized. “It is shared co-operative housing. We’ve had to up our precautions.”

It has all paid off. Neither Bradford House nor either of the two retirement homes operated by LOFT CS in Barrie, have had a single case of COVID.

The key is education and following the protocols, Donaldson said, “so making sure our people have masks, going out in the community, is important.”

S.W.A.N. stepped up, reaching out to fellow business owners within the community to ask for donations of PPE – and the community responded.

Peter Reali of Reali’s No Frills donated boxes of medical grade masks, and two women in the community who have been making cloth face masks – seamstress Emily Gordon, and Julie Bolduc, who started sewing Methuselah Masks after losing her job due to pandemic closures – also made donations.

Earlier this week, Leskiw and S.W.A.N. vice president Jackie Kozak delivered 300 face masks to Bradford House. 

Donaldson was especially delighted with the cloth masks, which are washable and reusable.

“Those are really nice because you’re not wearing the medical masks out,” she said. They also help avoid stigma for the residents, when they go out in the community.

Stigma is a huge issue. Some of the residents at Bradford House struggle with mental health as well as physical health issues, and there can be a lack of understanding and acceptance.

“Mental health really does impact every one of us,” said Donaldson. “Circumstances change” and anyone might find themselves at risk of homelessness, as a result.

For some, aging brings symptoms of dementia; for others, it’s the onset of diseases such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s chorea.

For others, grief and trauma can be overwhelming.

That’s one reason why the support of groups like S.W.A.N. is so appreciated.

“Bradford as a whole – the mayor, the community, you guys – has been very supportive,” Donaldson told Leskiw and Kozak. “We all need that support here.”

S.W.A.N. is planning to continue to collect face masks for The LOFT and Bradford House, and to look at ways of raising funds, possibly through virtual events, in the coming months.

But it’s difficult to approach businesses for cash donations at this time, Leskiw noted.

The organization’s membership includes many small business owners who have been hit hard by the pandemic. While there are hopes that the group might be able to hold its first in-person meeting in months this August, they are still struggling “trying to find the new normal,” she said.

At any rate, the S.W.A.N. ladies told Donaldson, “We’ve got all of next year to do something for you.”

For more information on S.W.A.N., click here