Nfld. & Labrador

Single parents struggling to cope in coronavirus fallout, association says

More single mothers and fathers are turning to the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland for help amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the association.

N.L. organization crisis calls are up since outbreak began in the province

Elaine Balsom, executive director of the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland, says her organization has gone from supplying about 125 smaller food hampers a month to more than 150 larger ones since the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting this province. File photo. (Paula Gale/CBC)

More single mothers and fathers are turning to the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland for help during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the association.

Executive director Elaine Balsom says requests for help have spiked since the outbreak began affecting Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We're seeing our crisis calls increase because [of] all of the uncertainty and what will happen and how long this will go on," Balsom said. "It's created all sorts of stress for our single-parent families."

Putting food on the table has become the No. 1 concern for single parents, she said.

New and existing clients are leaning harder on the association to meet that need now that school breakfast and lunch programs aren't available to help supplement the food served at home.

She said SPAN has gone from supplying about 125 smaller food hampers a month to more than 150 larger ones.

The organization now takes at least five inquiries for help a day, up from about three.

Balsom said the organization is fielding calls about employment safety, layoffs, rent and the different federal programs available to help. Sometimes, she said, parents call just to talk and stave off feelings of total isolation.

The stats

According to a 2016 Statistics Canada report, in Newfoundland and Labrador 23 per cent of children under the age of 14 live in a single-parent household. 

During the 2008-09 recession, Statistics Canada found single mothers with younger children experienced high employment losses

The nation's national statistics office puts Newfoundland and Labrador's unemployment rate at 16 per cent, and says 29,000 jobs were lost in Newfoundland and Labrador last month alone.

More work, less volunteer help

SPAN has changed the delivery method of some of its services to try to decrease the risk of spread. It has minimized the level of contact for its food hamper program, closed its revenue-generating thrift store and shifted some of its educational programing online.  

It also stopped allowing volunteer help. Now five core staff members are working outside their job titles to get everything done. 

The SPAN offices in St. John's services single parent families with monthly food hampers. File photo. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"We're like a family and so wherever we're needed, whether it's on the phones or in the food bank or whatever, we're there to help out one another," Balsom said.

Fortunately, she said, people have been generous, and donations have increased to meet the rising need. But the future is less certain. 

The organization has cancelled its annual summer flea markets and has begun thinking about other ways to raise money.

"We don't know how the support from the public will be because everyone's in the same boat.… everyone's sort of, you know, buying what they need but only the essentials and things like support for other organizations like ourselves and others may drop off," Balsom said. 

"We may have to cut back on some of our programs like, for example, not help as many with our back-to-school program. Those are hard decisions to make."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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