(Above) A child holds a craft he made as part of the activities offered at the Bethany Hope Centre in Ottawa

More than ever before, vulnerable young parent families and pregnant youth are in need of support during the COVID-19 pandemic.  With daycares, schools and many social services closed, they are facing more barriers to accessing necessities and emotional support while experiencing long days of isolation with their children.

The Salvation Army’s Bethany Hope Centre is reaching out to families to provide comfort, food and baby items as well as continuing to offer virtual programs to help them work towards their goals.

To reduce the number of trips outside of the home and on public transportation with children, The Bethany Hope Centre has partnered with Gopher It Deliveries to help deliver boxes of food to families in need. The Bethany Hope Centre is seeing about twice as many of their participants looking for food support during these difficult times.

Families receive about a week’s worth of food that includes fresh produce, eggs, cheese, milk, non-perishable food items and baby food and supplies where needed. The Bethany Hope Center is also continuing to offer their lunch box program.

“Children still need healthy food,” said Crystal Gallant, Nourish Family food coordinator. “Many of these families are used to relying on school breakfast programs and after school programs to help feed their children, so we need to make sure these gaps are filled.” The lunches are added to the food deliveries in addition to some healthy recipes, instructions, food tips and nutrition facts.

The Parent Support program at The Bethany Hope Centre is also adding activity sheets and crafts to the food boxes to help keep children busy while at home. The activities include writing letters to their parents, time capsule ideas, activities around expressing emotions, listing what they are grateful for and making handprints of everyone in their household. The Parent Support first weekly Zoom Circle with parents and children was held on Zoom video conferencing in late April.

“This is similar to what we do in playgroup only moved to an online format to adhere to social distancing,” said Rachel Arnold, infant and child development worker. “It’s a way to check in with families, sing some classic children’s songs and do a story time with a familiar puppet.  Our nurse from the Bethany Hope Centre Health Clinic was also present to answer any questions.”

Nurse Cathryn Fortier, has also been available to participants through phone calls, email and a chat app to answer health related questions and help connect them to a doctor or refill a prescription through a partnership with Bruyere Family Medicine Centre. “We give patients the number of the Bruyere clinic, but they are often more likely to call me first. I think it’s about having someone they know and are comfortable talking to,” said Fortier.

Pamphlets with health-related phone numbers and health information including hand washing and who to reach out to in cases of family violence are also being put into the food boxes.

While young parents are at home with their children, The Bethany Hope Centre Learning Coach program continues to encourage them to continue their studies, if that is their goal.

The Bethany Hope Centre Learning Coach program helps young parents finish high school by offering them a flexible schedule with one on one teacher support as well as wrap around services including a playroom where the children are looked after while they study.

Because schools, daycares and many services including The Bethany Hope Centre have had to close their doors during the pandemic, young parents are at home full time with their children, making it a little more challenging to complete assignments and study for exams.

“The students are very enthusiastic, but it’s become more difficult for them without any in-class time with their peers and the supports they had,” said Phil Wakeford, learning coach.  “The students however, already worked on their studies remotely and do their courses online, so we were able to make the transition smoothly and I am there to offer help over email or over the phone.”

Along with education help, The Bethany Hope Centre’s Employment Coordinator Stacey Alexandre is helping young parents with resume building, budgeting and keeping them informed on government benefits they may be entitled to during the pandemic.

“A lot of industries are closed right now so it’s a difficult time to be looking for employment, but I am still working with clients via email to help them build skills and provide pathways of support,” said Alexandre.

Alexandre is creating videos and social media posts around self-care, tips to save on groceries and exploring transitioning from home to work. She is also sharing free professional development opportunities such as Smart Serve and the Brain Story as well as employment webinars to assist with pre-employment skills.

The Salvation Army continues to provide essential services across Canada throughout the COVID-19 crisis. To donate, visit SalvationArmy.ca or call 1-800-SAL-ARMY.

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