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Barrie senior credits online community for getting her through tough times

From home-cooked meals to handmade cards, Jane Laker says Barrie Families Unite came through in a big way to help her following surgery, and now she's doing all she can to give back
2021-03-14 Jane Laker
Jane Laker was one of the first Barrie residents who received help after reaching out to what was then a newly launched Barrie Families Unite Facebook group.

Jane Laker has come a long way in the last 12 months. 

This time last year, the Barrie senior was about to undergo an emergency hip replacement surgery  and the world was about to shut its doors.

Nothing had been prepared or put in place for when she was released from hospital and sent home, where she would be living alone. After being brought home by ambulance the afternoon of her surgery, a bedridden Laker realized her inhaler was empty and that she had no way to get a new one. 

“I am quite anxious and am trying to figure out how I was going to deal with this. The world had all of a sudden shut down and nobody knows anything,” she tells BarrieToday.

By 1 a.m., she says her breathing was getting worse and she was getting scared.

That’s when she remembered about a link a friend had sent her while she was in the hospital to a newly launched Facebook group created for Barrie residents to get help and access information.

“Barrie Families Unite started on the weekend. Sunday, I’m on the page, Monday I’m in surgery and Monday afternoon I am delivered back to my home,” she says. “I decided to put it out there exactly what had happened and within an hour someone brought me an inhaler. It was the most incredible thing.”

The generosity of the group’s members didn’t stop there, she says. Laker then received a message asking if she would like to receive a hot, home-cooked meal dropped off the following day.

“They knew I was by myself and had just had surgery and was a senior. In that initial shutdown, once a month, I was delivered a hot meal. It always came with a handmade card and it was just wonderful. It was such a reach out to those of us who didn’t have other people available to us and who were really quite scared.”

For quite a while, Laker says she merely followed along on the page and offered what she could as a way to maintain some contact with the outside world. 

“That was a very big thing for me and I found right at the beginning of the world shutting down, people were exceedingly noticing a lot of closeness in Barrie residents,” she says.

Laker says it was extremely difficult for her to decide to reach out for help that first night home from the hospital.

“I was scared, I couldn’t breathe properly and the anxiety from that was creating a big problem," she says. "Just being able to put the ask out there allowed me to relieve some of that tension. The group was growing so fast that first day, I didn’t feel there was any detriment in asking and I was amazed by the response and number of people asking if I was ok and offering help. They were so good at understanding … and they did … and I could sleep.”

Now that Laker has recovered from her surgery, she’s come full circle  from someone who needed help to someone who is now helping others.

Following a fire at her Mary Street apartment building in January, Laker says it was almost instinctual to step up to help.

“I am much better mentally and physically now than I was then (and) the fire caused an entire floor of people not be able to go back to their homes,” she says. “Police and fire were handing out papers with the phone number for Red Cross Emergency and Disaster (and) residents were looking rather dazed. There were so many questions so I became the boots on the ground for everything going on the fire.”

Laker reached out to the Barrie Families Unite (BFU) team and asked for help for the residents who were not able to go back to their apartments. 

“I let them know we had 40 residents sitting on a bus needing help and with no place to go. There was so much to do. We needed to get in touch with pharmacists to get people's medications, get food, arranged hotel stays,” she says. “Right away, through the page and connecting with anyone I could think of, we were able to get food provided to the residents that evening and assist in getting social programming in place the minute Red Cross stepped back at the end of 72 hours.”

After the fire, Laker began to realize that more often than not, you don’t really know the people who live next to you. 

“Many residents are not able to do everything for themselves and I started to realize there were a lot of needs in this building,” she says.

Laker says she is continuing to help her neighbours by making them nutritious freezer meals, with help from the BFU Pay It Forward Good Food Box.

“They send me supplies to make healthy freezer meals for these residents on an ongoing basis," she says. "The one thing I’ve said is every single level of income in Barrie has used this group as both an ask and a give.”