The Gianna Centre in Edmonton switched gears to move many of its services to an online format as COVID-19 hit and the centre had to close its doors. Photo by Lincoln Ho/Grandin Media

Gianna volunteers step up in crisis

  • June 27, 2020

CALGARY -- The easiest option for Vera Fischer when COVID-19 struck would have been to simply close the doors at the Gianna Centre.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I thought if it was my sister, my daughter or my friend, how would I help that person? That was the approach we all took.

“These are people who are a part of God’s family. We have to look after them.”

The Gianna Centre was providing pregnancy crisis support in person before COVID-19 shut down the City of Edmonton. Cooking, spiritual enrichment, money management, breastfeeding and pre-natal and post-natal care were among its many programs for roughly 65 women and men.

When forced to close, Fischer, the program manager, and her team of 20 volunteers found a way to maintain nearly the entire suite of services in an online format.

“We were so shocked like the rest of the world when COVID-19 hit,” Fischer said.

The Gianna Centre was among almost 100 Catholic Social Services (CSS) affiliates that needed to rapidly reimagine service delivery to ensure more than 20,000 people in 12 central Alberta communities were not forgotten. Three of its priority areas of service are helping people with disabilities, supporting children and families and aiding newcomers to Canada.

CEO Troy Davies quickly assembled a cabinet of 15 senior CSS leaders to design a blueprint to meet the challenge of the pandemic.

Fischer is grateful for the guidance by Davies and his team.

“They were compassionate and so supportive,” she said. “I don’t know if half a day went by without them sending an e-mail or some form of communication assuring us of their support and assuring us that we’re all in this together.

“Suddenly all the (personal protection equipment) flooded in along with procedures and protocols. We all practised the same protocol regardless of what part of the organization we work for.”

One of the significant hurdles the Gianna Centre faced, in addition to transferring courses online, was ensuring clients still received essential deliveries such as groceries, baby clothing, diapers and maternity vitamins. Fischer says the generosity of donors ensured the centre was stocked with supplies, which she and volunteers drive to client homes.

She marvels at the high level of commitment from her volunteers.

“I cannot even put it into words. The gratitude I have for the people who work here are outstanding. My volunteers have stepped right up.

“Most of them have a professional designation, and they all have something great to offer. We have a retired nurse, a doula, a teacher and someone with an admin background. They are all bringing their professional skills with a big pro-life heart.”

One of the Giana Centre’s good-news stories was its success in providing support for an expectant mother in the delivery room. Securing permission was tricky due to public health restrictions.

“We had a mom who came to our office a couple of times a week for support. She had no family, no partner, nobody. She really depended on us, and she knew our doula was willing to go to the hospital with her. But now that COVID hit, we were not allowed. She was very anxious.”

The Gianna Centre filed a special request and received approval for the doula to accompany the mother.

Fischer says COVID-19 has reaffirmed her passion for her work and the women, men and families she supports. She is looking forward to when all activities again occur face-to-face.

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