After two years of offering take-out service to clients, the Elgin Street Mission is getting ready to reopen its dining room.

When the pandemic started, the centre started serving meals through a takeout window. However, later this month, it will be welcoming clients back inside again.

Director and chaplain at the Mission, Amanda Robichaud, said it hasn’t been ideal.

“Our clients really depend on the social aspect that they get here at the Mission,” she said.

“That is coming in, chatting with our volunteers, our staff, with each other, playing cards over coffee — whatever that looks like for them.”

She said a lot of people were left feeling disconnected as a result.

“I think for those who are experiencing homelessness, mental illness or addiction, that is multiplied.”

She said without that place to connect, they’ve noticed fewer people accessing services at the centre.

She said they’ve also noticed some clients losing weight.

“I remember serving one gentleman that his belt almost went around him twice,” she said.

“We see things like that because people aren’t making that journey as it’s too far or too cold.”

Robichaud said when public health restrictions started easing up, they started getting ready to reopen the dining room, which will be open to clients on March 14.

“There’s things that you have to do. You have to get some more volunteers in place,” she said.

“There’s no time wasted. As soon as we got that announcement, we got things in motion.”

She says staff and volunteers are excited to reopen the dining room.

“They come and they serve because they love the clients,” she said. “The interaction with the clients is priceless. That’s been missing over these past few years.”

The Samaritan Centre, which offers services for vulnerable people in Sudbury has been working to offer clients services throughout the pandemic. Executive director Lisa Long said she’s “thrilled” the dining space is opening again at the Elgin Street Mission.

“This is excellent news for our beloved clients and will allow them to regain a sense of community,” she said.

‘Social connection’

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, loneliness is “considered a growing public health problem.”

“It is well understood that human beings are social animals,” the association said.

“We are actually hard-wired biologically to be in connection with each other. When we are out of connection, we suffer. And not just the effects of feeling lonely. Social isolation can cause a whole raft of other physical and mental health problems.”

The CMHA said those problems could include depression, anxiety and cognitive decline in older people.

“Groups who live on the margins of society are at greater risk of being socially excluded and isolated, including the elderly, youth and people who are unemployed, racialized and otherwise stigmatized,” the association said.

“The good news is, research tells us that loneliness is a reversible condition. Researchers have also found that the main treatment for loneliness is meaningful and social connection.”

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