Working through COVID: Leading change in uncertain times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way we serve the community. Despite the challenges we’re facing, we continue to hear stories of perseverance and hope. Our team is adapting and rising to the challenge before us. The 416 Community Support for Women program, in particular, is an example of resilience and teamwork.

It was on Saturday, March 14th, that LOFT’s Alex Branston, Interim Director of the 416 Community Support for Women drop-in program, let her team know that the location would be closing for an undetermined amount of time to follow the province’s social distancing protocols.

Several community members had already been asking if the program would close. The closures across the province were announced that same week, on Thursday, March 12th, and the team soon realized that they would not be able to have the building open safely.

“Many community members were pretty understanding, but some were quite upset by the loss of support,” said Alex. That is when something nice happened. Those who were openly upset found support in other community members, as well as in our staff, who knew what was happening. They understood that keeping social distance would be a challenge; that maintaining extreme cleaning measures as we served lunch, or as people came in and out throughout the day, would be a challenge. It was nice to see the community wrap around one another, but it was still very stressful for everyone.

March 16th was the first day that the 416 was virtually open, but physically closed. The team spent the entire first week as a group figuring out how they were going to keep going, and what that even meant. It was a very, very, very uncertain time. The goal was always to continue to do the best parts of what we do, and to do them safely.

Alex had previously worked during SARS. “I was a redeployed screener at the Toronto Western Hospital Emergency,” she explained. “I think one of the things that surprised me, which continues to do so, is the length of it all. SARS didn’t feel this long. It wasn’t this long. Not that it was any less serious — it was just different.”

The initial weeks, after and during the closure announcement, were a leadership test for Alex. “I really felt like I can get through this as a leader. I can support my team through this, and I feel lucky – if that’s the right word – because I’ve been through a similar experience,” she said. “I know what redeployment’s all about. I’ve done it myself. It is scary, and it is a lot, but we can get through it. I had that faith and confidence in my team at the 416 that they would get through it, and that we’d come together as a team to meet the needs of our community members.”

Today, the 416 Community Support for Women drop-in program is still there for its community, serving meals and providing socially distanced support to clients.

The 416 Community Support for Women program provides daily drop-in meals and programming, mental health and addictions support, and a health and wellness program.