Food packages at the Ponoka Youth Centre. Image: Facebook

Community agencies form Vulnerable Population Task Force

Ponoka Family Food Support Program launched

Behind the scenes, a group of representatives from Ponoka community agencies was quick to respond to the growing needs in Ponoka and district due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been quietly serving the community’s most vulnerable population.

The group first met virtually on March 23, and has been meeting weekly since then.

The need for a unified community response to the affects of COVID-19 being felt in the community was first brought up during a meeting of the physicians at the Battle River Medical Clinic (BRMC).

According to Dr. Cayla Gilbert, the physicians immediately recognized the need to reach out to their vulnerable population.

The BRMC, represented by three physicians, including Gilbert, in partnership with the Wolf Creek Primary Care Network (WCPCN), represented by social worker Lisa McBride, reached out to local community social services agencies to join together in forming the Vulnerable Population Task Force.

The group initially met to identify the vulnerable population in the community, discuss current resources, and to work to bridge the current gaps in services.

Agencies on the task force are the Town of Ponoka, Alberta Health Services- Addictions and Mental Health, Ponoka Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), the Ponoka Youth Centre, Ponoka Rising Sun Clubhouse, BRMC, WCPCN, Ponoka Victim Services Association, the Ponoka Food Bank and Ponoka Wheelchair Van Society.

The youth centre represents the needs of families and youth due to COVID-19 and helped to establish a food security program for families.

Ponoka Family Food Support Program

The Ponoka Youth Centre has taken the lead on a new collaborative community program that aims to address families’ food security issues, the Family Food Support Program, which launched on April 21.

The program is spearheaded by the youth centre, with the support and collaboration of Ponoka FCSS, Ponoka Rising Sun Clubhouse, Ponoka Wheelchair Van Society, Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) division and St. Augustine School.

“Our agencies’ role in this, is specific to families,” said Beth Reitz, Ponoka Youth Centre executive director.

“We have partnered with the schools to ensure that the families that are in need are being serviced.”

In the first week of the program, almost 40 families registered, which represents about 200 individuals.

Program options include a supper backpack program that provides families with all of the ingredients needed for a nutritious meal once a week, or the weekend care package program, that supplies families with a food package on Friday afternoons to help them through the weekend.

There is also a gift card option, reserved for families with severe allergies in the home who cannot access either of the other program options.

Financial supporters of the food program are No Frills, Family Meats Ltd., S4 Greenhouses, Scholings Produce Inc., President’s Choice Children’s Charity, the Breakfast Club of Canada, Ponoka Food Bank, United Way of Central Alberta, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada and WCPS.

For more information about the program call 403-783-3112 or email admin@ponokayouthcentre.com.

Vulnerable Population Task Force

The task force strives to meet the needs and gaps in services for residents within the communities of the town and county of Ponoka in relation to COVID-19 through the collaboration of resources and information, says Shannon Boyce-Campbell.

Boyce-Campbell is the executive director of Ponoka FCSS and the Ponoka Wheelchair Van Society, as well as a member at large of the Ponoka Food Bank.

The first thing the task force tackled was identifying risk populations such as seniors, persons with disabilities, persons with mental health and addictions, the homeless or under-housed, and those experiencing domestic violence, financial insecurity and food insecurity.

Formal and informal needs assessments were then completed of those groups. The youth centre completed a wellness survey to gather date about the needs families are experiencing and FCSS is doing a seniors’ assessment, and WCPCN is conducting ongoing assessments.

The group has established a list of available resources at all levels of government.

It has collaborated with the other agencies to ensure services aren’t being duplicated and that pooled financial and human resources were utilized in the most impactful and cost-effective manner, such as joint grant applications and funding requests and the reallocation of staff duties.

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“Agencies communicate resources to those in need and we work together to mitigate gaps in services as they arise,” said Boyce-Campbell.

For example, the wheelchair van delivers food supplies, the Town of Ponoka provides Wi-Fi access and WCPCN is connecting seniors to virtual recreation activities and other resources.

The task force has also established a number of food security programs, (besides the Ponoka Family Food Program), while adhering to COVID-19 safety standards.

The Ponoka Rising Sun Clubhouse is focusing on food security for the non-seniors of the vulnerable population by providing cooked meals for delivery or pick up on weekdays at a subsidized cost. The meals are provided mainly to members, but can be provided for non-members when necessary.

The Ponoka Food Bank has established a hamper program and given financial support the the family food program, along with the other listed supporters.

Ponoka FCSS has continued its Meals on Wheels and Frozen Meals programs.

The task force is also building an inventory of options available in the community in the event of an escalated pandemic.

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