Harvey: A rural community’s response to COVID-19

By Sheryl Pepin, community developer for the Harvey and McAdam areas

As a community developer for Horizon Health Network, I have the pleasure of working in the community I have called home almost my entire life. Harvey is where I grew up, and it is where I have chosen to put down roots and raise my family.  

I could list a great number of reasons why I chose to stay in Harvey, or why others move here from other cities, towns or provinces. The one that rises to the top is the sense of community and togetherness that exists in our little neck of the woods. The small community of Harvey has a history of coming together in times of difficulty, and the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been no exception to this. 

When the province issued its State of Emergency, shutting down all non-essential services, closing schools, and mandated people to isolate in their homes, we knew this had the potential to have some pretty significant impacts on the health and well-being of people living in our community.

The Harvey Community Network (HCN), formerly Harvey Community Days, board came together to come up with a proactive approach on how we could respond to the effects of COVID-19 as a community. This board is made up of many community leaders including myself and Dr. Daniel Fletcher, who chairs the committee. 

Access to information

One of the first things we wanted to ensure was the community was accessing accurate information.

We developed a COVID-19 Community Awareness Facebook page which acts as a centralized location for our community to disseminate accurate information as it pertains to COVID-19 and Public Health guidelines. It also allows us to post community-specific information on available resources and serves as a way for the community to stay connected.

We were also aware that because we live in rural New Brunswick, access to reliable internet service is an issue and not everyone in the community would be able to access information on the internet. We put together a COVID-19 resource package and mailed it out to all community members living in the greater Harvey area.

Community helpers

The board was concerned about the most vulnerable in our community, and given the geographically widespread area of our very rural community, keeping tabs on everyone would not be an easy task. We put out a call on the Facebook page looking for community members who would volunteer to be a point of contact and do check-ins with vulnerable neighbours. The response to this request was amazing and we were able to pull together an extensive list of community helpers which was included in the resource package.

Also included in the resource package were two sheets of paper, one red and one green. The red sheet means they’re not OK, the green means they’re OK. Residents stick these sheets of paper in their windows to indicate their status, and community helpers monitor the paper in their neighbours’ windows.

Virtual social connectedness

The effect of social isolation on people’s mental wellbeing was a concern and we wanted to help people to maintain social connectedness that is so prominent in our community. The Community Spirit Challenge was developed as a way to bring people together.

Geared towards families home with their children, it provided daily activities that could be done in the home. If you didn’t have the supplies on hand, these were provided for free and delivered to doorsteps, by our group of volunteers. Some other virtual activities took place as well, including weekly Facebook live bingo, and virtual team trivia nights.

Prior to COVID-19, there were a number of exercise classes available in the community for all ages, levels and abilities. We wanted to ensure the community remained motivated to be physically active, even though they were now stuck at home. A couple of the exercise classes were transitioned to a virtual class offered over Facebook live and classes were led by community volunteers four days a week.

We also held a virtual Physical Activity Challenge, which was a spin on our annual Harvey Activity Challenge, which promotes physical activity in the community. A calendar of virtual physical activity opportunities was provided in the resource package, and community members were encouraged to track their minutes of physical activity for the month of July and submit those for a chance to win prizes.

Food security

How people were accessing food in the community was a concern.

We do not have a grocery store in Harvey, and transportation can be an issue on a good day where often people rely on family or friends to transport them to run errands such as getting groceries. 

Let’s be honest: at the height of the pandemic people in general were scared to go to grocery stores (for a multitude of reasons). Through a partnership with the United Way of Central New Brunswick, and the grocery store in the neighbouring community of McAdam, we were able to start a weekly grocery delivery service that allowed community members to order their groceries over the phone or by e-mail and have them delivered to their doorstep

The United Way also had some additional funding for seniors in particular, and we worked with them to identify that a meal delivery service would be much needed in the community. By partnering with Westphalia Bakery, we were able to deliver 40 free meals a week to seniors in the community up until the end of July.

What we realized is this meal delivery program was really just a short-term solution to a pre-existing gap in community. We are now in the process of developing a sustainable meal delivery program that will be volunteer-led. 

One of the biggest barriers for that to happen is our lack of industrial community kitchen space that meets Public Health guidelines for the licensing requirements for that type of program.

We are working with various community partners and funders to undertake a renovation of the kitchen at the Harvey Memorial Community Centre to make this program a reality.

In my capacity as a Horizon community developer, I supported all these community-led initiatives that are all tied to the determinants of health that influence the health of our communities, including securing the United Way funding for the grocery delivery and meal delivery programs, in addition to helping coordinate the programs.

What we saw with COVID-19 is that it didn’t necessarily create new issues, but it did put a spotlight on issues that may have pre-existed in our community.

I believe this has pushed us all to think more on what we can do better, and in some ways, it has actually helped us to come up with solutions and move things forward at a pace that we might not have been able to accomplish in the past. 

If we can learn anything from this experience it is that we have an opportunity to work toward more resilient communities who are better positioned to cope with the impacts of something like a global pandemic.

Sheryl Pepin has been a community developer with Horizon since 2013, serving the communities of Harvey and McAdam. She is a graduate of the University of New Brunswick’s Business Administration program and previously worked in the health and education sectors. Sheryl has a long history of volunteering with various community organizations.

Sheryl takes pride in raising her three children in her hometown of Harvey and hopes to instil a sense of community and civic engagement in them. Afterall, our children are the future!

Sheryl is passionate about bringing people together and finding innovative solutions to the needs of the community. Sheryl is always willing to listen to suggestions from the community – some of the best ideas have come from casual conversations with community members.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Sheryl at Sheryl.Pepin@HorizonNB.ca