Hamper program for isolated seniors gets funding boost

Seniors Advocacy Centre executive director John Fryters speaks at the annual seniors' gala on March 7, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

A recently-launched program to help provide food and hygiene items to vulnerable, isolated seniors has received a helping hand from FoodRescue.ca and Second Harvest.

The Heart of Seniors Gathering, which launched a seniors’ hamper program last month, received a $20,000 grant.

The funds will be used to offset the overall costs of the project, intended to provide COVID-19 relief for isolated seniors.

Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue charity.

The program was launched with funds from a New Horizons for Seniors Grant.

That federal grant was opened up to allow for emergency COVID-19 relief, including providing food and supplies to people in need.

The $20,000 from Second Harvest will help to keep the program going.

“We can’t predict how long it’s going to last and how long seniors will need this,” said pastor John Fryters.

“I estimated about six months, seven months. To do a hamper program like this is very, very expensive.”

The first run helped out more than 30 seniors with food. The second distribution, set for next week, will also provide personal hygiene supplies and it will help even more seniors in need.

“The first one went really, really well,” Fryters said.

“We got a lot of feedback from the seniors,” he said.

Fryters is being helped out by his wife, Hannelore.

“They said, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect so much,’” she said.

“We had canned goods, potatoes and carrots. This time around they get fresh eggs, iceberg lettuce besides all the canned (goods).”

The hygiene hamper will include hand soap, toothpaste, dental tablets, toilet paper, tissues, laundry soap and dish soap.

“They’re asking if they can have (the hampers) before Mother’s Day because they are alone and there’s nobody coming. They like the program.”

The hampers are timed to land in the middle of the month because that’s when seniors on fixed incomes will start needed to restock their supplies.

In addition to the usual supplies, Hannelore is also including gloves as well as safety masks. She’s hoping to sew about 30 cloth masks for the seniors receiving the hampers at their request.

In addition to the hamper program, the pair have put together a telephone tree to help the seniors stay connected and stave off feelings of isolation.

“All of the seniors … receive calls from us two to three times a week just to check in — we believe that’s really important,” John Fryters said.

Hannelore spoke to 12 seniors over the weekend.

John said he spoke to one man who was disappointed in the federal government’s response. While aid packages have been announced for businesses, students, parents with children and people who have lost their job, there has been no cash bailout for seniors.

“He complained that Mr. Trudeau had given out goodies to everyone but seniors,” Fryters said.

“The group that was the most affected by COVID-19, which was seniors, … didn’t get any handouts. This person was pretty upset by it.”