By Charlie Senack
Like many organizations, the Westboro Beach Community Association (WBCA) has felt the effects of COVID-19.
A summer that was supposed to be filled with activities for the community to enjoy had to be put on hold due to public health restrictions.
The pandemic has forced organizations to shift how they operate and what they offer. For the community association, they wanted to direct their focus towards giving back to the community safely.
“We were supposed to be starting a lot of things, like an archaeological dig, and we were going to have a final consultation for the new beach building,” said WBCA President Mari Wellman, adding other events, like the official beach opening and spring barbecue, were also cancelled.
So instead, they decided to plant a new pollinator garden on the Selby Plains as a way of welcoming more bees and birds to the neighbourhood. The Fletcher Wildlife Garden took part in the initiative and donated plants and seeds to beautify the area.
It’s just one of many community initiatives that has been brought forward thanks to COVID-19 — Wellman said it’s brought out the best in people.
But for those in more vulnerable communities, their struggles may have only got worse, and the pandemic may have limited their access to local resources.
When most of the city’s organizations closed their doors in mid-March, so did the Westboro Community Kitchen, which runs out of the Van Lang Field House (303 Churchill Ave). It has proven to be a lifeline for some families that are looking for a hot and healthy meal, especially for those who live in motels where cooking facilities are not available.
Large gatherings still aren’t permitted so the doors remain closed, but the need is still there. The WBCA has worked with community partners, including the Carlington Community Health Centre, to ensure that about 30 meals are delivered weekly.
“Poverty, social isolation, health issues and homelessness do not disappear with the pandemic,” said Bonnie Campbell, a member of the WBCA in an email. “In many cases, the lives of the vulnerable show how great the divide is between the rich and poor in our Westboro neighbourhood.”
Meals have been delivered to people who attended the Westboro Community Kitchen as well as dinners from the Van Lang/Taiga area and the Richmond Plaza motel, said Campbell. The community association is hopeful they can soon return to the kitchen and operate takeout service.
This summer, the WBCA also partnered with Twice Upon a Time, a small, charitable literacy organization that provides both new and used books to children around the city.
“The goal is to help them build a library of their own in their house,” said Barb Clubb, a board member with Twice Upon A Time. “We know that research shows that there are many children in the world that don’t have books in their house. If children are exposed to books, reading and literature, their life outcomes are improved.”
So far, 26 children who attended the Van Lang’s After the Bell initiative — a homework club program — have been given brand new book packages since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Clubb said the Van Lang Field House has been involved with the initiative before, but not on a regular basis. During the pandemic, she said the two organizations have been working more closely together, a positive relationship to come out of these unprecedented times.
Twice Upon a Time not only gets donations of books, but also funding donations to purchase new ones. Clubb says the organization likes to focus on important topics like residential schools and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“One of the areas is around Métis and Aboriginal material because there are wonderful picture and story books out there that are not likely to be donated,” she said. “Similarly, we are doing some extra special purchasing around the area of Black Lives Matter.”
As the summer draws to a close, the WBCA hopes they can still hold some in-person events. A sidewalk chalk party is being planned for kids in mid-September, but parents will need to sign up in advance to limit the number of people taking part at once.
A scavenger hunt has just wrapped up and plans are underway to hold a closing the beach bonfire at the end of September. WBCA President Wellman says the annual tradition will still go ahead as planned but the details are still being worked out.
“It will have to look different this year because usually about 100 of us gather to mark the closing of the beach season,” she said. “We will still have hot chocolate but people will have to bring their own mugs and maybe instead of handing out marshmallows, we will have wrapped candies. Of course, hand sanitizer will also be available.”
To learn more about activities the Westboro Beach Community Association is planning, visit their website at westborobeach.ca.