With COVID-19 having shut down social gatherings (like this one pre-pandemic) at Sidney SHOAL Centre, Beacon Community Services is operating a hotline to check in on seniors and other vulnerable populations and handle requests for assistance. (Black Press Media File)

Sidney senior welcomes outreach phone calls from charity

A long-time user of Sidney’s SHOAL Centre, praises Beacon Community Services

Jill Somerset has always had a fondness for Sidney’s SHOAL Centre for Seniors.

Living across from the facility near the Sidney-North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library, the 77-year-old can see the facility from her apartment.

Not surprisingly, she has frequently dropped in to the centre, playing table tennis among other activities.

“I’m a regular at SHOAL,” said Somerset, who has lived in Sidney for 18 years. “I have always participated in what they do, and they are so kind over there. They help everyone.”

But this social aspect of Somerset’s life came to an abrupt end when the facility became among the first to close in Sidney because of COVID-19, shutting its doors on March 13. SHOAL hosts a wide range of activities for seniors, their caregivers and family members. SHOAL’s assisted living home on the centre’s upper floors remains open and the SHOAL kitchen will continue to provide food services to residents, but remains closed to the public.

RELATED: Public life grinding to a halt on the Saanich Peninsula

The centre, however, has nonetheless remained a part of her life. She recently received a call from the centre to see how she was faring.

“That was very thoughtful of them all, because there are a lot of seniors in this area,” she said. “They are a great service anyway, even if we don’t have any problems. They have so many activities going on. It’s a perfect place.”

The call itself came from volunteers with Beacon Community Services, the charity running the service. Kerry Readshaw, director of communication for Beacon Community Services, said volunteers connected with more than 300 seniors across the Peninsula over 48 hours. At the same time, a handful of individuals had called its information line at 250-656-5537.

“We are finding at this point, we are hearing ‘I’m okay now, dear,’” said Readshaw. But she anticipates that this sentiment will change over time, with individuals starting to reach out to the hotline for assistance with access to food and medicine the top of issues facing seniors.

Somerset for her part said she is doing “generally okay” under the circumstances.

“It’s a bit lonely,” said Somerset, who tries to get exercise by walking near the closed library branch, enjoying nearby gardens. “I put on my mask and my disposable gloves, and I go for a walk, and most people that I have met on walks are giving the [recommended] social distance.”

Since the local start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Somerset has had few, if any chances to meet others in her apartment complex.

“I haven’t talked to the other tenants in this place, because we don’t see each very often,” she said.

With face-to-face contact limited, Somerset has been chatting with others over the phone. “My friends and I talk,” she said. “We say ‘how are you doing?’” With a network of friends across the area, Somerset is not lacking of conversation partners. “In fact, I have had a couple of calls from England, because they are going through the same situation, by the sounds a lot worse, because London is in a really sorry state.”

From Somerset’s perspective, the pandemic appears “pretty dramatic” and sees most people becoming increasingly frightened. “Honestly, I think it is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Somerset said she is “pretty scared” herself in drawing comparison to the Second World War.

“I mean this is worse than wartime England,” she said.

“This reminds me of my childhood history books, when the Great Plague of London happened. The only thing that cleared it up is the Great Fire of London. We really don’t need a Great Fire now.”


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