COVID-19 has been inescapable for everyone–citizens, businesses, non-profit organizations; everyone had been impacted in some way by the ever-evolving situation we’ve all found ourselves in since the beginning of 2020.
Like virtually every other type of organization, Regeneration has had to make some changes and alter the way we serve our community. 2020 and 2021 have certainly challenged us. But this unprecedented time has also provided new opportunities to support and uplift those that need us.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on these challenges and opportunities, and I’ve noticed a few things, which I’d like to share with you today.
Here are 18 observations I’ve made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Our Supporters Are Our Backbone
We are in awe of you, our supporters; of your generosity and your deep commitment to the people in our community.
The information, regulations, and most importantly, the need during the COVID crisis changed and expanded so quickly. But you responded to a magnificent degree. Thank you for choosing Regeneration as a channel for your compassion and action. We are humbled by that and thank God for you.
Truly, we could not do the work we do without you.
2. Community Is a Crucial Part of Our Offering
COVID really drove home the importance of community.
Almost immediately, we saw how isolation negatively impacted the folks we serve. People could no longer come in for meals and services, and as a result, the sense of community our guests rely on plummeted. Our guests grew noticeably lonelier with each month of lockdown.
3. The Need Exists Despite Restrictions
Overnight, our inside spaces were forced to close to guests. In response, staff turned our front steps into the front line of COVID response, providing good meals in takeout containers. People desperate for clothes got clothing.
Our nurse practitioner continued to volunteer, even without an indoor space, and the Bloom clinic served people from the parking lot. We were able to provide some of our guests with COVID testing here. And of course, staff had thousands of outdoor conversations offering people encouragement and advice.
4. We Must Always Have Contingency Plans
The pandemic has completely altered our appreciation for an urban food supply.
The Saturday the pandemic emergency was declared, we went into a major grocery store, only to find the shelves practically empty. This was a wake-up call for us.
There was an immediate and urgent need for essentials among underprivileged people, and we had to do something about it.
5. Our Responsibility Grows in Times of Crisis
We launched Regeneration Marketplace – the food bank – the week after the state of emergency was announced. We’d become aware of the escalating food insecurity in Brampton, and, after listening to many community leaders, we realized that we had to widen the scope of our offering.
We needed to serve everyone at risk of going hungry in Brampton, not just our Regeneration community.
6. Even Under Pressure, Our Values Shine Through
We opened the Marketplace very quickly, and while that impressed me, I was even more impressed to see Regeneration’s values assert themselves.
When we saw more than 100 people waiting in line, huddled in the cold, staff quickly switched to allocating 15-minute shopping appointments to guests. This eliminated the lineups and demonstrated the respect and dignity that Regeneration stands for, even amid an emergency.
7. Guests Lost Some Ground
As COVID rules eased and we reengaged with guests in-depth, we began to see symptoms of the damage our community members have suffered during the pandemic.
We’ve observed an obvious uptick in anxiety, prolonged isolation, and fear of health care systems. This last trend is particularly disturbing because it has encouraged our guests to neglect their urgent health needs, often saying something like, “I’m not going to a hospital and catching COVID.”
8. Agility & Speed Are Strengths of Ours
Flexibility is one of Regeneration’s strengths. In this crisis, we added speed to our list of superpowers.
When the Region of Peel needed a pandemic drop-in, we set it up. When the region asked us to hire nurses, we quickly powered through some details and new processes to get it done. In the moment, we did what we were asked to do and committed to being flexible and fast.
9. This Is the Most Challenging Landscape We Have Faced
This is not unique to Regeneration, but I have to say our staff worked an extraordinary number of hours. They have had to navigate a constantly changing landscape of rules, requirements and protocols that evolved at breakneck speed. Our team’s proactive and conscientious approach has been vital in protecting the safety of those we serve, our staff, and our volunteers.
10. The Health of Our Staff Must Be a Priority
The single biggest stressor for me was constant concern about every staff member. We were deemed essential, but we still could have closed. However, no one at Regeneration wanted to abandon our community. They were willing to risk their health to support the people who needed us.
Despite layers of precautions, a handful of staff were diagnosed with COVID. Unanswerable questions about the outcome for them and their families flooded my mind. Helpless to affect the outcome, I could only watch and pray. Thank God they recovered.
11. Burnout Will be an Ongoing Concern
When we began planning for reopening, one of our biggest challenges was exhaustion.
All of our staff at every level has experienced unprecedented stress. With a long list of questions to answer and protocols to implement, our staff really impressed me with their commitment as they pushed through. They are a real blessing, but there are definite challenges around sheer exhaustion. It is my responsibility to protect them from that.
12. Taking Stock Will Dictate Our Next Move
Senior staff are now taking a deep dive into what’s important for Regeneration. What are our next steps? What do we restart? What do we set aside? How can we make the biggest impact?
Our values are solid–no discussion there. The question is, how do we live them out as COVID recedes, and we have new insight about the needs of people in Brampton–especially those most isolated and in need of support?
13. More Funding Means More Responsibility
The funding we received during COVID is sobering. For example, a grant from the Region of Peel allowed us to provide hard-to-get essentials such as diapers. Groups like Rotary Club, churches, individual donors and businesspeople all chose Regeneration as a platform to help others.
These investments are not unique to us, nor are they new channels. However, the scale of support revealed that people and businesses trust and believe in our mission.
We are grateful and recognize that larger investments from more stakeholders demand that our systems, administration, and governance all keep pace.
14. New Priorities Have Surfaced
We do have immediate priorities. As soon as possible, we will turn the Regeneration Marketplace into a permanent high-capacity food service. We’re also taking action to find our own permanent home, larger, better suited to our work and our vision.
15. We Must Transform for the Future
We do have emerging program priorities that will take time to plan and implement. Having said that, we also have a clear vision of where we want to grow in the future.
For example, I envision more mental health support, including addiction services, and a health clinic that includes chiropractic care–incredibly beneficial to people who live hard lives and often have no home. Dental services are another great example of something we’d like to provide.
16. Our Success Relies on Partnerships
Partnerships are vital. Everything we Regeneration Outreach wants to do for isolated, neglected, and struggling people comes at a cost. It will take creative partnerships with organizations that share our passion for supporting the people that need our help.
17. We Still Face Risks
The coming months contain a lot of risks. As CEO, I have 4 key short-term responsibilities:
- Restart our programs in an orderly, sustainable fashion as best we can
- Support and protect staff, so no one burns out
- Protect staff, guests, and volunteers from any COVID resurgence
- Ensure that Regeneration Outreach has the funds we need to operate
18. Funding is Uncertain at the Moment
This is the difficult part. I am not completely confident about operational funding over the next 18 months.
Our “new normal” costs are higher, and covid-driven donations will slow down. It’s been a long haul for donors, granters, and other supporters.
Our best bet is to secure some fresh commitments. So, while we don’t presume that anyone must support us, we will make very direct appeals to people.
This has been a challenging season. We have trusted in God to carry us through and accomplish his ends, and He certainly hasn’t let us down. So we will continue to trust Him to accomplish what He wants through Regeneration.
Meanwhile, we are thankful for every gift of any size because every dollar serves the people in Brampton who most need help.
Thank you for your interest and support.
Ted Brown, CEO
Regeneration Outreach Community