An online community support group in Swift Current has become a lifeline for residents looking for information or assistance during this time of self-isolation and social distancing to keep safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Swift Current Pandemic Support Network is a public, community-building group that has been active on Facebook since March 13.
“The Swift Current Pandemic Support Network is a Facebook group that helps people in Swift Current connect to each other and figure out how we can get through this pandemic as a community,” founding member Andrea McCrimmon said. “We are focusing on sharing reliable sources of information, and people can use the group to offer support for other people who need it and also ask for help when they need it.”
It was started by a group of volunteers at a time when the impact of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan started to become clear and when the provincial government announced the initial measures to limit the spread of the virus.
“Some people and I were discussing what it would look like if we actually have to stop going out in public and talking to each other in person and how isolated people would be,” she recalled. “We started thinking about what we could do if that happened and then the Facebook group kind of emerged out of that.”
The founding members were McCrimmon, Staci Schaitel, Cori Giesbrecht, Courtney Stewart, and Jessica Giesbrecht, and Anika Henderson also became involved as part of this group of moderators for the site. They all have an association with the Swift Current Branch Library as staff, board members or as friends of the library.
“We're all volunteers,” McCrimmon said. “We think this is a good way of doing it as a team, that we have multiple eyes on the situation and can help people out and help direct resources.”
These moderators will review posts before they become visible to the public to ensure that posts adhere to the rules for the group. The rules for this Facebook group require respect for privacy, no hate speech or bullying, no public shaming, no spreading of misinformation or fear, not taking advantage of vulnerable people, and not selling things or promoting a business on this site.
“Sometimes it's quite busy and it's hard to keep up and other times it's pretty quiet,” she said about the number of posts reviewed by moderators. “I'm anticipating it's going to get busier.”
The sharing of reliable and accurate information about COVID-19 and the pandemic is an important goal of the Swift Current Pandemic Support Network.
“We have to be really careful at this time about what information is being shared, because there is a lot of unreliable health information out there,” she said. “We also want to make sure that we are focusing on facts, on not misleading people. So we are watching it carefully.”
The moderators will evaluate the source of information to determine its validity, but if they are in doubt the information will not be shared on the public group. Information and updates from government sources about COVID-19, for example from the provincial government or the Saskatchewan Health Authority, will be posted as soon as possible.
There has been a good response in the community to this Facebook group and there are already over 2,500 members. Most are from Swift Current, but there are also members from the surrounding area.
“People have responded really positively,” she said. “They're really glad that it exists. We've had great feedback, just a lot of people thanking us for helping get it off the ground.”
McCrimmon noted that the Swift Current Pandemic Support Network has been making a difference in various ways to support residents during this challenging time of coping with a pandemic. People who are in self-isolation have been able to find help through this site and the public group also provided information to others who are dealing with various difficulties.
“We've been able to help connect people who are able to volunteer with people who need help for getting groceries delivered or getting errands run,” she said. “Some people have encountered a serious financial situation, because this all happened so suddenly. So we've been able as a community to help them get some assistance.”
A very useful community resource was developed through this public group. Volunteers helped to create a Swift Current COVID-19 service directory, which is available on this Facebook group. It was created through Google Docs and provides a variety of relevant information in a single document. The information in this directory varies from contact details to apply for EI benefits to information about grocery stores, pharmacies and supplies.
“We thought it was important for people to have access to all that information in one list,” she said. “So we have put that together and that's been really helpful to people. It's updated probably on an hourly basis. People can submit comments either on the Google Doc or on our Facebook group by e-mail and then one of our moderators just goes in and makes the change official on the document. So in that way we're able to keep it constantly updated.”
For McCrimmon it has been heartwarming to see how people have responded and reached out to help through the Facebook group.
“It's really beautiful to see the way that Swift Current is just so willing to support each other and I'm really proud of how people are reaching out to offer their friends and neighbours help,” she said. “I think we're going to be in a really good position to get through this together and I think this Facebook group will definitely help.”
Through this site she has already seen how the drastic efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 are having an impact on residents.
“Now that things are continuing to shut down and many people are losing their source of income, we're getting a lot more questions about how to apply for financial assistance or support,” she said.
The Swift Current Pandemic Support Network will continue to assist people with information and support during these uncertain times of a pandemic.
“We are in a very disorienting time,” she said. “We've never been through anything like this before, but I think in Swift Current we're in a really wonderful position to get through this as a community. We've got a great healthcare system, our city is small enough that we have a wonderful sense of community, and we know each other. So we just need to find new ways to reach out to each other and offer support and I think we're going to be OK. It's going to be difficult, but we will pull together and make this work.”
Anyone without access to the internet or Facebook who wants to connect with this community support group can call 306-774-5092 or send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org