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The benefits of living in a co-op during the pandemic    

Published March 16, 2022

The benefits of living in a co-op during the pandemic    

By Nicky Courchesne

When I recently read in the newspaper that Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health believes the worst is behind us and that restrictions are being eased, I began reflecting on the changes to our co-op life since the start of the pandemic two years ago.

Gone are the in-person orientation presentations and interviews, along with our committee meetings and most of our social events which were part of the fabric of our co-op community.

Gone also is our in-person attendance of our annual and general members meetings, although we were able to hold our last two Fall GMs outside at our common area in front of the garage, chilly weather notwithstanding.

We now have a new word in our collective vocabulary: pivoting. We’ve had to pivot to Zoom GM meetings to continue the business of the co-op and to fulfill our responsibilities as members. Some of our committees have held their meetings on Zoom and our membership committee has been able to hold orientations, interviews and training sessions via Zoom.

Co-op Spirit

A window filled with drawings and paper easter eggs and butterflies

But through it all, starting in the early days of the pandemic, our co-op spirit, though challenged, remained undaunted.

Early in the first lockdown, our social committee asked us to decorate our windows with drawings and jokes to entertain children out walking in the fresh air with their parents. There was a friendly competition between neighbours as the themes changed.

Our annual spring and fall clean-ups were still held, socially-distanced outside of course, but our popular potluck lunches inside our community centre afterwards were cancelled.

The members active in the gardening sub-committee continued to work outside and the vibrant colours of the flower gardens provided a cheery pick-me-up to everyone, especially those isolating at home. A couple of family movie nights were held outside at our garage area. Families brought their lawn chairs and snacks and lots of bug spray!

Neighbours held driveway chats, sitting socially-distanced in their lawn chairs, while catching up on the latest news and happenings, limited as they were.

Kids activities

A table sits on the co-op's lawn, piled with Halloween treatsOur social committee organized a Zoom kids’ quiz for our youngsters.

And a couple of families and their young teens were instrumental in organizing the past two Halloween celebrations outside at our common area; members dropped off candy at an earlier time and the teens then prepared individual treat bags.

At the same time, members interested in participating in the pumpkin carving contest had pumpkins, carving tools and candles delivered to their units by members of the social committee.

On Halloween night, the co-op children were able to wear their costumes and gather outside, masked and socially-distanced, to get their treats. The carved pumpkins were judged and displayed outside on the deck of our closed community centre. By all accounts, a good time was had by all.

Neighbours helping neighbours

But what touched me the most were the quiet ways members reached out to others stuck at home, especially our at-risk members, with friendly phone calls, or offers to run errands or pick up groceries. Some left little care packages for neighbours. Over the past two winters, driveways were regularly and “mysteriously” cleared of snow.

When vaccines became available last year, the Ottawa Public Health website proved difficult to navigate for some of our technology-challenged members, myself included. A member rose to the challenge and helped many of us book our two vaccination appointments. And she was generous with her time and effort again later when boosters were available. I am so thankful for her help and I know many other members feel the same.

Throughout these difficult and challenging times, coping with lockdowns and restrictions, waves and variants, I was grateful to live in my co-op, where neighbours showed they cared. Members could feel that they weren’t alone, even as we were separated by public health restrictions. My husband and I have called the Alliance Co-operative home for 28 years and there is no other place we want to be.

Nicky Courchesne has been a member of Alliance Housing Co-operative in Ottawa, Ontario since 1994.

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