How to safely give or get help during a time of isolation: A list of resources for Canadians

These are some ways you can reach out to support your community or get the assistance you might need.

These are some ways you can reach out to support your community or get the assistance you might need

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This week, province after province has declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just announced an $82-billion COVID-19 aid package for both businesses and individuals. 

During these difficult times, many of us are looking for ways we can help our friends and neighbours get through the tough days and weeks ahead — logistically, economically and even socially. Alternatively, some of us are facing unprecedented personal hardships and challenges, and could benefit from a helping hand, whether it's from a kind neighbour, community group or charitable organization. 

However, because of the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic (which calls for strict social distancing) and how quickly the situation has escalated, giving and getting help safely can be a challenge. 

"There are a few organizations that are currently developing resources," says Paula Speevak, the president and CEO of Volunteer Canada, which is sharing information for organizations and individuals about volunteering during a pandemic on its website. "Some of it is the information you would find from public health agencies about washing hands and social distancing, but we'll also focus on issues specific to volunteering." Right now, notes Speevak, many organizations are still trying to figure out the specifics — deciding which programs and services might need to close for now, and finding new ways to offer programs in an adapted format. 

One challenge is that seniors make up a large part of the volunteer network in many communities, and they're also the ones that are specifically recommended to self-isolate right now. "In Quebec, for example, anyone over 70 has to stay home. And there, the average age of the volunteers who are involved in home-support services is 72," says Speevak. This also puts senior volunteers at risk of feeling socially isolated, she adds, since helping out in the community can be an important source of social connection.

Information and plans are changing quickly, and new opportunities are always becoming available. But since Canadians of all ages want to lend their support — or get assistance — right away, we've compiled a list of ways to help out in your community during the COVID-19 pandemic, plus a list of resources for those in need.


Check in with your personal network

Now is a good time to check in with family, friends and other people in your social network to see if they're OK and find out what they may need, suggests Speevak. Whether it's helping a friend in self-quarantine by picking up prescriptions, or sharing food or toilet paper in your neighbourhood Little Free Library, there are plenty of opportunities to offer help at the individual level while maintaining social distancing. 

Reach out to a volunteer centre

"There are 220 local volunteer centres around the country that connect people with opportunities in organizations," says Speevak. Connect with them, or visit their websites, to find out what specifically is needed right now, as well as what is and isn't possible in terms of volunteering at this time. 

There may still be some opportunities to volunteer your time, even during the pandemic. Toronto's Daily Bread Food Bank, for example, is still offering modified services to clients with the help of volunteers. Feel free to reach out to local organizations that you want to work with, just be aware that it might take them longer to respond right now. "With increased services needed for vulnerable people and decreased availability of staff and volunteers because [of] social distancing, organizations may not be able to get back to you [quickly]," says Speevak. 

There are also virtual volunteering opportunities, such as online tutoring, available for individuals who aren't able to do their regular work while they're in self-isolation. 

Donate funds 

Canada Helps has a dedicated COVID-19 pandemic response page on their website where you can find a lengthy list of organizations supplying aid and critical medical supplies, supporting vulnerable populations and providing food to needy Canadian families. 

Give blood

Some provinces such as Manitoba and Quebec have indicated a heightened need for donations right now because of a spike in appointment cancellations. Canadian Blood Services has COVID-19 information available online, including new donor screening measures to help keep the national blood supply system safe. 

Join a Facebook group 

If you're on Facebook, you may want to check out dedicated "caremongering" groups as well as threads within existing community groups that address the coronavirus pandemic — anyone can offer help or post a request for local assistance from neighbours. Just be aware that posts and requests may not be vetted or verified, and exercise precautions and common sense in your communication and interactions. 


Two new emergency benefits for those who don't qualify for EI will be available to apply for in April. But as you may have other pressing needs now, consider reaching out to your social networks and the abovementioned online groups for assistance (for example, if you are in self-quarantine and need help with getting groceries). 

To get connected to local charities and organizations that can help you get care, food or other essential supplies, Speevak recommends calling 211, a service offered by the United Way in nine Canadian provinces and territories. "Somebody will walk you through the services that are currently available for you — it's an information and referral service for non-emergencies," Speevak explains. And you don't have to give your name or personal details to ask for information. 

If you're a senior

There are services specifically targeted at seniors during this pandemic. Toronto seniors living in low-income housing, for instance, can get help picking up essential groceries and household items by calling the Friendly Neighbour Hotline. Community organizations, such as WoodGreen and Sprint Senior Care, are also continuing to provide some services such as meal delivery and medical-appointment transportation. In Vancouver, there's a volunteer-run Tri-Cities Corona Virus Telephone Support Line that seniors can call for support or just to hear a friendly voice. 

If you're experiencing domestic violence

Some experts have expressed concern that there will likely be an increased need for shelter spaces and other resources for victims of domestic abuse because of COVID-19 stresses and families self-isolating. ShelterSafe.ca, provincial 211 websites and municipal websites all offer information on emergency shelters and transitional housing. 

If you're in recovery 

The pandemic's social distancing measures can be difficult for individuals in recovery from addiction, especially as groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous have reportedly started to cancel some meetings because of COVID-19. The government of Canada's website lists helplines across the country, and through the 211 website you can find local addiction support in your area. 

If you're in distress 

General crisis counselling and support services through telephone and chat are available through national and local organizations such as Crisis Services Canada, Distress Centre Calgary, Tel-Aide Outaouais and Canadian Mental Health Association Edmonton

You can subscribe to CBC News' daily guide to the coronavirus outbreak for the latest updates and tips on prevention, delivered every evening. 

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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