On the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, Whole Way House Society (WWHS) has been reaching out to and supporting vulnerable seniors and veterans who are at risk of homelessness since its founding in 2013. In partnership with BC Housing, WWHS has provided community building programs and tenant support services for 133 people living at Veterans Manor. Dedicated to creating a safe and welcoming environment where the focus is on building meaningful relationships and a supportive community, WWHS instills worth, value, and dignity.
According to Jenny Konkin, WWHS President and Co-Founder, “Because of our onsite programs and tenant support, we have seen seniors transition out of homelessness and stabilize into housing successfully, with a sense of belonging and home. Further, she says, “We have seen a decrease in isolation, loneliness, and neglect. Vulnerable seniors are able to access the help and care that they need and deserve.”
When asked about the strengths of WWHS, Jenny speaks to their model of collaboration with non-profit housing providers, “We have built healthy and strong partnerships with landlords and BC Housing, as our programming greatly increases housing stability and quality of life for residents.” Their fundraising is key in supporting WWHS programs so that they can provide social outings, nutritious food, and other activities.
On March 17th, 2020, once Covid-19 had hit, Whole Way House Society immediately identified a need for additional support for access to food for their seniors. First, they began a door to door meal delivery program for their vulnerable seniors and veterans living at the Veterans Manor in the Downtown Eastside. Jenny describes how “Struggling with complex health issues, a low-income senior must have access to food security and they can’t stand in long food line-ups during this time.”
As the Meals Delivery Program was rolled out, Jenny states that “we saw great success in helping them self-isolate, but we knew there were many more low income seniors who didn’t have access to a program like this”.
WWWHS then decided to reach out to five other non-profit housing providers and asked how they could help them support their seniors. They saw their support of approximately 90 seniors increase to over 600 low-income seniors and vulnerable residents all across Vancouver. “We needed to figure out a way to safely get high quality food to the vulnerable seniors and residents”, so Jenny, reached out to and partnered with cooking school and deli, The Dirty Apron, Kitchen Group restaurant, and the Eden Cafe by Coastal Church. All three had supported Whole Way House Society right from the start. These three businesses then began to provide senior-friendly, nutritious, and delicious pre-made meals at an affordable price. Whole Way House Society then reached out to BC Housing to fund the program to keep their vulnerable seniors safe. Jenny describes this as “an incredible partnership and a truly inspiring collaboration of business and non-profit organizations coming together to support community”. WWHS has hired an outstanding team to help with the mobile meal delivery to the 18 buildings around the city, and this team, along with volunteers, do the delivery at the Veterans Manor.
This new partnership allowed for the residents to safely self-isolate and “they’ve been incredibly grateful” says Jenny. She describes how “one lady picked beautiful wild flowers and made a bouquet to give to the staff, she said it was the least she could do to say thank you. We’ve received chocolates and candies and even some artwork from one gentleman and of course, beautiful words of encouragement as we deliver the meals.”
During the time of COVID there has been an amazing number of volunteers, over 50 in total. Sandra has been volunteering every single week throughout the pandemic and she shared “It has been incredible to be part of it. Delivering meals to seniors.... because they need us now so that they can stay healthy while we deliver the meals, they don’t need to go out. And it’s just a joy to be part of it.”
Friendly smiles from staff and volunteers are abundant but shared during Covid-19 “with our eyes, because our mouths are covered with masks” says Jenny.
The program is much more than the essential delivery of food. Wanting to be more than an essential food delivery program, Whole Way House Society also reaches out to support vulnerable seniors with hope. To achieve this, they demonstrate gestures of kindness and engagement opportunities by delivering flowers, balloons, and birthday cards. They’ve been known to deliver microwaves, and special soups for those with dietary restrictions. It provides WWHS staff and volunteers with the opportunity to ask how the senior is doing, or do they need anything? Do they want any information? The seniors experience friendly, and what has become familiar faces, and always with a wave of recognition. Seniors have been writing thank you cards, and have been showing their gratitude in so many ways. Says Jenny, “They appreciate knowing that someone was thinking of them and would care enough to check in on them, and stop to chat as they receive their meals.”
Jenny relays one of those moments of extra care. “Last week one of the residents receiving meals told our Program Manager Nick that although he was very thankful, he’d have to cancel his meal delivery service from now on. Nick asked if everything was ok with the meals or if there was something wrong and the resident replied that nothing was wrong with the meals but he has cerebral palsy and he was not able to swallow the food properly, especially since his regular procedures have been postponed during this time. Nick was determined to help out in whatever way he could, so he and Mike went and got some healthy soups from the store that they could deliver instead of the regular pre-made meals. When they came to bring him the soups, the gentleman was so thankful for food he could eat, but expressed that he was even more touched by the fact that they went out of their way to do that for him.
We know that nutritious meals are vital to our health, but so is human connection. We want each resident to know that they matter and we care for them.”
How has the program impacted those engaging with the seniors? Jenny sums up her own experience as “It’s been incredible to get to know them, offer help when we can, and spread some joy around the city during such a difficult time. We want to know they are not alone. We see them, and we care for them.”