Multilingual COVID-19 emergency hotline extended as thousands access support

More than 3,000 people in the Calgary area have called a COVID-19 emergency hotline since it was introduced in December. It provides service in 22 languages.

Response centre helps callers access food, financial support and government resources in 22 languages

Edwin Chavez is one of the cultural brokers who helps connect those in need with help in their own language. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

More than 3,000 people in the Calgary area have called a COVID-19 emergency hotline since it was introduced in December.

The Multilingual Emergency Response Centre provides support in 22 languages, helping callers access food, government programs, financial support and other resources. 

Ilaine Aquino was one of the callers. She tested positive for COVID-19 in February after an outbreak at the seniors' facility where she works.

From the Philippines, and living alone in Calgary, she needed food to get her through two weeks of isolation. After she called the hotline, a food hamper was delivered to her door.

"I had a support system from the church and friends, but I cannot ask someone to shop for me," said Aquino. "It really helped a lot."

With dignity

Of the 3,000 people who have called the hotline so far, about half are from the Filipino community.

The centre is now proactively reaching out to other ethnic communities that so far haven't accessed the service. 

"We would like to have this support to be available to as many as possible, because we would like our community members to live and isolate with dignity," said project facilitator Edwin Chavez. 

So far, 94 per cent of the calls to the hotline have been for help accessing food during quarantine, followed by employment support (52 per cent), financial assistance (39 per cent) and support applying for government benefits (21 per cent).

Seventy-three per cent of callers were female, and more than half had children under six years old. 

Anyone in the Calgary area, including people in Airdrie, Okotoks and Chestermere, can receive support through the hotline.

However, financial support is available only to those living in east Calgary.

Funding extended to April

The service is targeting people who are in quarantine or have experienced a loss or decline in income, along with vulnerable groups, including seniors and people with disabilities. 

Chavez says providing help in the callers' first language has helped break down a barrier to critical public health information. 

"We have encountered callers that are not yet aware about vaccination, so I think this helpline can also help promote education and awareness," Chavez said. "They can find information on how to book an appointment and the different phases of the vaccination program."

Ilaina Aquino says she has recovered from her mild symptoms and has shared the hotline information with her friends and colleagues.

"I'm doing OK now because it has been more than a month and I'm back to work," said Aquino. "This is my passion, looking after senior people."

The program was supposed to wrap up at the end of the month, but funding has now been extended through April. 

The hotline is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The number is 1-833-217-6614. 


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