One Hundred and Eleven Days

Photo by Unison

50 years of history is a long, long time.

Most of the historical stories we have covered have gone back into the archives, but this one focuses on something a bit more recent. It is unique because it is the only time in 50 years that Kerby Centre has closed its doors.

People may be sick of hearing about it, but COVID-19 changed the world over, and Kerby Centre was no exception. Even now, the remnants of the virus still loom in the background, but after three years, since seemingly have returned to some semblance of normalcy.

But those were a long three years. Coming out of it, we were all changed: Kerby Centre especially.

The start of 2020 was mired by rumour and misinformation about COVID-19, then called the coronavirus. It wasn’t until March and April of that year things started to become more severe across the planet.

It was beyond difficult and difficult actions were required. On March 16, Kerby Centre closed its doors.

“We made the difficult decision to suspend all education, recreation, and wellness programming,” wrote CEO Larry Mathieson in the April 2020 issue of the Kerby News.

“We know during this COVID-19 crisis more and more seniors will out of necessity become more self-isolating.”

In May 2020, then-president of Kerby Centre Zane Novak wrote using words that we’d hear all too frequently over the next year: “We are truly living in unprecedented times.”

The question arose: Kerby Centre was a building, with four walls and a roof: what is Kerby Centre when that building must be closed?

The answer would unfold in the months to come and cement an incredible fact: Kerby Centre was, is and will always be more than just a building.

We started moving, making changes, and coming up with new ideas for how we could not only continue to serve our community but serve them in the ways needed.

Our Kerby Café was empty: no customers to serve. Immediately, we realized we had a full commercial kitchen and lots of folks out there isolated in their homes. We got down to business: our weekly signature meal turned into frozen meals that we could deliver out into the community. By the first month of the new program, 1,000 meals had been delivered.

Seniors were alone and worried. The Kerby News routinely published stories of hope, happiness and outpourings of love to reach every person to whom it was delivered. A social calling program started, where volunteers would reach out just to connect and have a chat with the isolated.

The outpouring of volunteers was tremendous. In the first months alone, 160 volunteers came to us to offer their assistance. One volunteer anonymously commented: “Volunteering for the Kerby Centre during this time is a great and simple way for me to feel like I’m giving back a little more. Thank you for the opportunity.”

And Zoom; that blasted Zoom program that we all had to learn, equal parts helpful and frustrating, was a godsend to our recreation programming.

We started as many new recreation programs as we could manage, reaching seniors in their homes to keep them active and connected.

“For some, it has been a bit of a challenge working with the new technology,” said then-recreation manager Kari Stone. “A number of participants found that with a bit of determination, patience and support, they have been able to access the classes.”

And we’re still running them today.

It wasn’t until July 2020 that the centre finally reopened, adhering to the stage 2 guidelines set out by Alberta Health Services. Plexiglass, masks and stickers on the floor to encourage social distancing were all included, but! It was so lovely to have folks back.

We were closed for 111 days. In that time, we helped file 1,000 tax returns by phone; we made over 700 grocery deliveries; and remember those frozen meals? By Sept. 2020, we had delivered our 10,000th one.

More than 200 classes on Zoom were held; 48,000 disposable masks were packaged and distributed; 400 new volunteers came to offer their help.

It makes me so proud to see, by the numbers, the massive impact we had during the start of COVID-19. Vaccines would come in 2021, and there would be more ups and downs to come, but in those first few months, Kerby Centre cemented itself as more than a building.

In these 50 stories, we keep trying to answer the question: “What is Kerby Centre?” and I think COVID-19 taught us something that gets us very close to an answer. Because when unprecedented times became reality, we were there. We were there, every single day, changing the game when it comes to serving our community.

If I had to give an answer, right now, as to what Kerby Centre is? I’d point to those 111 days.