British Columbia

Need help with your errands? Online groups, neighbours are pitching in during coronavirus pandemic

People are offering to cook meals, walk dogs and deliver groceries.

People offer to cook meals, walk dogs, and call those feeling lonely

A Costco worker disinfects shopping carts in downtown Vancouver on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

This is not a story about people hoarding Lysol wipes or clearing shelves of toilet paper. You've heard enough of those.

This is a story about helping each other in an unsettling time, when the grinding halt of everyday life sparks acts of goodwill.

Buying and dropping off groceries for the elderly. Cooking meals. Walking dogs. Calling people who are stuck at home and feeling lonely.

Across neighbourhoods, cities and online spaces, many British Columbians are offering to support their peers, especially the vulnerable, as the global coronavirus pandemic upends day-to-day life.

"We see that people are really keen to come together ... and change the narrative of this scary and insurmountable virus," said Avery Shannon, 21, one of the co-founders of the Vancouver-based Facebook group Covid-19 Coming Together.

The public group features hundreds of posts with a dizzying array of offers.

Some are simple tip-offs, like flagging well stocked produce aisles at less trafficked stores in Metro Vancouver. Others combat larger worries, such as building a directory of artists whose income is at risk so others can buy their products.

'Offers people something to cling to'

The group's five co-founders put the page together Friday following a 13-hour organizing session. In just two days, the membership has snowballed to more than 7,500 people.

"It's incredible the ways in which people are able to step up according to their means," said another of the group's co-founders, Yolanda Clatworthy, who's currently at home in self-isolation after cutting a trip short to Colombia. 

"This level of social solidarity is pretty unprecedented in what we've seen lately," the 31-year-old added, "and offers people something to cling to after a lot of uncertainty and and hard news."

Organizers and members say the group goes beyond just acts of kindness. It highlights how the coronavirus hits vulnerable populations the hardest, including people with disabilities and precarious workers.

In the coming days, the organizers hope to build tool kits so that people can start similar groups in their communities.

Shoppers wait in line at Costco in downtown Vancouver on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Kate Rosenbaum knows everyone isn't online, so she's focusing her efforts on a couple blocks in her East Vancouver neighbourhood.

The 39-year-old artist has drafted a letter that she intends to drop in her neighbours' mailboxes on Monday, with an offer to deliver groceries, run errands and pick up prescriptions.

She also recently learned of an elderly couple — who are 87 and 93 years old — living across from her, and has started batch-cooking sauces and soups that can she leave on their porch and others in the coming days.

Rosenbaum said a visit earlier this week to Costco, where she said she saw crowds of people stockpiling goods, was jarring and prompted her to act.

"You can go the route of, 'I'm going to protect myself and every man for themselves,'" she said.

"Or you can say, 'I'm relatively healthy and I still have the means and the ability to help others.' And I'm going with that." 

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