Sask. bakery treats the isolation blues

The bakery in Indian Head, Sask., delivers hot lunches to families forced to stay at home because of COVID-19 measures

INDIAN HEAD, Sask. — COVID-19 is hitting Alison Poelen’s family hard.

The single mother of three boys has lost her entire income and she has to wait several weeks to find out about Employment Insurance benefits.

But with one ring of her doorbell late last month, the whole family’s spirits were lifted.

The Indian Head Bakery had just arrived with a hot lunch. Not only did the Poelens get a free lunch with the message “we’re thinking of you,” but they were also informed that soup and sandwiches for four would be arriving on their doorstep for the remainder of the week.

“It’s just really nice to know you’re not alone and that people are thinking of you,” said Poelen, explaining that her small business, Halo Esthetics, was legislated to close by the provincial government.

Poelen and more than 250 other residents in the southeast Saskatchewan community of Indian Head have received lunches thanks to the “High Five” program started by Indian Head Bakery owners Lisa and Bart Horsman.

The Horsmans were quick to jump on the idea suggested by their bakery manager Melanie Monaghan. As isolation restrictions were ramped up across the province, Monaghan knew regular customers to the eat-in bakery would be impacted.

“When I was driving to work one morning, I went by a house of one of our regulars and I knew they would normally have been having soup and sandwiches at the bakery that day and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it would be neat if we could take them something,’ ” said Monaghan.

The Indian Head Bakery owners embraced the idea, so a Facebook post went out that evening offering $5 lunches that would be delivered. The next day, 20 lunch deliveries went out. Within three days, the bakery was up to 85 lunch deliveries.

Not only were friends, family and business associates sending lunches to isolated loved ones and co-workers, but complete strangers were offering to spend $50 and more to get lunches out to those in need.

Monaghan and the Horsmans rallied to make a list of worthy recipients, including those who would be continuing to work during the coronavirus shutdown. Lunches have been delivered for staff at the local pharmacy, post office and medical clinics.

Eric Gray, a 38-year-old grain farmer from Indian Head, was happy to send a few free lunches to the local grain elevator in town.

“It’s pretty heartwarming that a small business in our community is thinking of others at a time that is pretty stressful for them,” said Gray.

The Horsmans closed the restaurant portion of their business, laying off seven staff members. Lisa explained that with two daily coffee-row gatherings having to be shut down, a sense of connection was cut for many local residents.

Lunches are now being sent to most of the bakery’s regular customers.

“One couple always orders chef salads, so we sent them chef salad instead of soup,” said Lisa.

Lisa and Bart’s daughter Kate, 21, and grandpa Horsman have taken on the role of delivery service for the lunches. With a van filled to the brim with brown lunch bags, the pair sets off from the bakery at 11 a.m. to make sure everyone gets lunch by noon.

Lisa said she anticipates that the High Five lunch program will only grow as those who receive packages usually want to pay it forward by sending someone else a $5 lunch.

“I feel teary just talking about it,” said Lisa, an Indian Head teacher who is very active in her community. “That’s why I live here because when times are tough people come together. We’re all in this together and it shows.”

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