Virtual coffee break helps people in small Manitoba village keep connected through pandemic

In many small towns, the local coffee shop is a focal point where people gather to catch up with their neighbours, friends and on the latest news around town. 

So when the coffee shop in Foxwarren, Man., closed earlier this month due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a big blow to the regulars. But with the help of a cook, a librarian and a little creativity, people in community have found a way to keep connected, even from a distance. 

“It’s the heart of the town,” said Stephanie Parkinson, of Foxwarren’s leisure centre, which houses the community’s library, provides services to seniors, meals, coffee and gathering space for various events. 

Parkinson, the town’s librarian, says the tiny village, located about 115 kilometres northwest of Brandon, Man., near Russell, has 100 people currently living within its boundary. Many more live in the surrounding rural area. 

“It’s always coffee in the morning, the library is open Tuesday and Wednesday, lunch is at noon,” said Parkinson. “So everything revolves around it and they’re lost.”

The Foxwarren Leisure Centre, which is a hub in the village, as seen on Google Maps. (Google Maps)

People, she said, soon began to miss the camaraderie and fellowship they’d get each morning — and sometimes in the afternoon, too — when they went for coffee.

“The biggest thing everybody is missing — all the guys play pool and all of the ladies have coffee,” Parkinson said.  “I had this idea that if we could get everybody to send in a picture — just of a cup of coffee — we could have a virtual coffee morning.” 

Not long after, Parkinson started receiving selfies from community members young and old. For those that couldn’t take a picture by themselves, someone else would do it for them — from a distance, of course. 

“It just is a community town and that’s what we did to try to fill up the gaps that the coffee morning left,” Parkinson said, who said about 20 people and counting have submitted photos of themselves drinking coffee in their kitchens, on their decks or somewhere else in their house. 

Those pictures were then turned into a video slideshow. 

Val McLennan, the leisure centre’s cook, helped put it together. She said she misses seeing her regulars just as much they miss her. 

“Just the conversation and seeing their faces,” she said, noting that she is still preparing meals for pickup and doorstep delivery in the community. 

“Once they saw the first video, they would phone up wondering how they could get their picture submitted,” McLennan said. 

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Parkinson and McLennan are happy with how it turned out and said it went — mostly — without issue. 

“The problem we had was some of them, being older, didn’t know how to take a selfie or anything. So it took a while to do,” Parkinson said. “Everybody wanted to know how to do it.  

“It was pretty good and everybody thought it was fun,” she said. 

She said people in Foxwarren are doing their best to keep connected, and safe, during the pandemic. She expects to see more people outside now that the weather is nicer. 

Stephanie Parkinson is the librarian in Foxwarren, Man., and helped facilitate a virtual coffee break through selfies when the local coffee shop closed due to COVID-19. (Submitted by Stephanie Parkinson)

“There’s quite a lot of people who are actually [living] on their town,” she said. Without the coffee shop, that sense of daily connection is gone for some. 

But, she said people in the community have stepped up and are calling, messaging or FaceTiming one or two people per day, just to say ‘hi’ and check in. 

“Without any planning, it just kind of fell into place,” she said.  “It just happened … and now everybody just phones someone once or twice per day.”

Parkinson said with the success of the first virtual coffee break in the books, plans are now in the works to organize another sometime around Mother’s Day. 

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