Ehatare's Food Service Manager, Susi Holmberg, with some fresh kringel dough.
Friday, 07 January 2022 19:00
Estonian Life No. 1 2022 - Vincent Teetsov
At the tail end of 2021, as the Omicron variant swept into Ontario and the number of cases rose exponentially, many of the Estonian community's events were cancelled. Possessing a cautionary mindset, Estonian fraternity Korporatsioon Vironia decided to act in unison with fellow Estonians, therefore cancelling its Perekondlik jõulupuu
(Family Christmas Party) on December 18th, 2021.
Typically a highlight of the year for Korp! Vironia members and their families, this party at Tartu College has become like an extension of their anniversary (Aasta Kommerss
) festivities in late November. There's a Christmas carol sing-a-long for the whole family. There's an abundance of verivorstid
(barley sausages made with and without blood). Moreover, it's a rare opportunity for kids to catch a glimpse of Jõuluvana and receive a present from his sleigh before Christmas Eve comes along.
Yet, this tradition is what made the party especially prone to cancellation, as many children in attendance would have been under five years old and not yet vaccinated.
With the family event cancelled, the question lingered: what would happen to all of those delicious sausages? After all, they were made to order by a team of staff and volunteers at Ehatare, as part of their 2021 Christmas fundraiser.
Both types of vorstid have been part of Ehatare residents' Christmas celebrations for five years, served as part of a meal for which family and friends come over to dine with residents. Within the past few years, these family members sought out vorstid to bring back home for the holidays.
With the recent demand for blood sausages being high compared to the relatively low supply, Ehatare's Activity Department took it upon themselves to start making and selling them, for the broader Estonian community to enjoy and to raise funds for the activities and programs of residents.
By 2021, food prepared for the fundraiser had expanded a great deal. Beyond sausages, in-house volunteers made pirukad, kringlid, rosolje, pohlamoos, kõrvitsasalat, seenesalat, hapukapsas
, and sült
. Generously volunteering their time to prepare these dishes—particularly because it wasn't possible for outside volunteers to come into Ehatare partway through December—were Janne Laanemaa, her Activity staff, and Food Service Manager Susi Holmberg. As noted by Holmberg, baking three large batches of piparkoogid
were Pille Gold and a number of residents from both the retirement home and nursing home. Activity Department personnel decorated and packaged these cookies and staff gifts.
Ehatare's new Executive Director, Veronika Viinamäe, explained that “volunteers and staff worked after regular working hours so it would not intervene with resident programs and regular duties. Estonian traditional foods are so important to our residents and to our community. Susi and her staff have been working hard to give our residents the Estonian dishes they love, and have introduced more fresh foods to the Ehatare menu.”
Knowing how much the residents of Ehatare have contributed to eestlus, how much they have given to keep the Estonian community thriving, and how difficult the pandemic has been on their day-to-day lives, Korp! Vironia decided that the sausages they ordered needed to be donated back to the residents, in addition to the money given.
Within the last few months, a great deal has changed again for residents and staff due to the Omicron variant. Veronika Viinamäe reported that “Up until recently, visitors were permitted to come into the home (following active screening) and residents were able to go out, enjoy concerts, performances, and other activities in a safe environment. In response to the evolving Omicron situation, we are following the Ministry and Public Health’s directions closely, and have put more protective measures into place to protect our Seniors.”
Now, it is not possible for general visitors to come into Ehatare unless it is absolutely essential. Every single person who enters is tested for COVID-19. All staff have received their first two vaccine doses, and most have had their booster vaccines. And while there has been a staffing shortage across long term care homes, the majority of Ehatare's staff have remained throughout the pandemic.
Even with these kinds of industry changes, it's been a progressive and steady transition for Viinamäe. She describes her transition into the role as something both challenging and exciting. Viinamäe is grateful for Ehatare's Leadership Team and staff; for the support of residents' families, and the community members, “who show up everyday and help make Ehatare a home.” She says “The love and support for the residents reminds us why we do what we do. It takes a village to raise a child, and the same goes for caring for our Seniors. Ehatare is a family. We will continue to adapt to the ever-changing environment, stay positive, and search for creative solutions.”
The goal of staff is to do everything possible to bring Ehatare to the end of the pandemic safely and happily, while continuing to provide residents with fun group activities, gym classes, outings, performances, group dining, in-house hairdresser visits, and time in the saun
In addition to providing vorstid for the residents' New Year's Eve dinner, Korp! Vironia's donation to this successful fundraiser will help this goal. Money raised will support the Activity Department, who are going to buy a freezer to store Estonian food for future resident activity programs.
Thus, this fundraiser is an example of how our community is transforming the frustrations of the pandemic into something beneficial.
Written by Vincent Teetsov
Jõuluvana was saddened when he heard that Korp! Vironia cancelled its *Perekondlik jõulupuu*. But he commends them for putting the health and safety of young children ahead of one evening's party. For generations, Jõuluvana has always focused his attention on the well-being of young children and he's already looking forward to next Christmas, when he can spend time with Vironia's children once again! Photo: Thomas Nast's 1869 illustration "A Visit From Saint Nicholas"