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CHATS finds new ways to support seniors during COVID-19 pandemic

Since cancelling its annual wellness fundraising walk, CHATS has launched a COVID-19 emergency fund to help ensure local seniors get the support and services they need more than ever

Now, more than ever, is it apparent that senior care is one of the most essential services in our society.

Community & Home Assistance to Seniors, or CHATS, is on the frontline of this essential service. For more than 40 years, it has provided assistance and support, offering community programs, transportation, and home safety and in-home services for seniors so they can age safely, comfortably, and independently.  

But, like many other not-for-profit charities in Canada, it has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CHATS Steps for Senior Wellness Walk, which was scheduled for May 24 and is one of its largest annual fundraisers, has been cancelled to comply with social gathering measures and to protect participants. 

Reliant on fundraising to provide essential services to seniors, the cancellation meant that $30,000 typically raised through pledges and donations from the yearly walk was now uncertain. Though fall fundraising events remain on tenterhooks, the definitive cancelling of all spring events has proved a challenge to the organization.

“We’re anticipating that our clients’ needs will only continue to grow as financial security gets affected by this pandemic,” said Christina Bisanz, Chief Executive Officer of CHATS. “We want to have resources available so that we can support any older adults and their caregivers during this difficult time.”

CHATS has adapted to the changing situation quickly, determined to continue serving the senior community. In lieu of the annual fundraising walk, it has established the CHATS COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund, with the intention of offsetting the higher costs that have arisen with increased senior need during the pandemic. 

CHATS hopes supporters will consider redirecting their pledges and donations to the new fund, so that CHATS will be able to continue deploying essential services to those in need. These funds will go directly toward food delivery through the Meals on Wheels program, respite care, grocery and prescription delivery, and security checks, among others. CHATS is currently just over halfway to its fundraising goal of $30,000.

To honour the walk’s promotion of physical well-being, CHATS has also launched a social media campaign that encourages community members to post pictures with a printable CHATS sign, promoting exercise and activity.

Yet CHATS’ adjustment to a post-COVID-19 world goes beyond a shift in fundraising. It has suspended all wellness and day programs for seniors, aiming to reduce the risk that comes with social gatherings. Instead, there are virtual programs offering seniors social, physical, and mental activities from the safety of their own home. 

Acknowledging that this shift may be difficult for seniors who live alone, CHATS has also significantly increased its telephone reassurance and safety checks. Grocery shopping, a new service in the wake of the pandemic, is another change CHATS has made to best serve their clients. Essential services it has always provided, such as in-home care, continue to operate.

“We’re constantly looking for ways we can maintain a social connectivity to our clients and let them know that we’re still here,” said Bisanz. “We wait for the day we can get back together with them, and will continue to provide them with the services and support that they need.”

In such a confusing and stressful time, CHATS has committed itself to ensuring the well-being of its frontline workers, and has support systems in place.

“It’s difficult for everybody, because we’re all concerned about when this will end,” said Bisanz. “It won’t be going back to the way it was for a long time. We need to plan and be ready for this new reality, so we can continue to support our clients in the best way possible.”