People in Waterloo region and Guelph start online groups to share resources amid COVID-19 spread

Online groups and websites are popping up in Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph as a way for people to share resources and help each other out, as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in Ontario.

'By looking out for your friends and neighbours I think you can make a place feel more like home.'

Suzie Taka is an administrator of the Facebook group CareMongering-KW, where members are posting offers of help for self-isolating neighbours. (Sarah Simpson)

When scary news is happening — "look for the helpers."

That adage comes from children's television host Fred Rogers — and it's something people in Guelph and Waterloo region have been taking to heart in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Multiple local Facebook groups and online resources have sprung up in recent days as a way to connect those who can offer help with those who need it.

Suzie Taka is an administrator with the group CareMongering-KW, a Facebook group set up late last week that already counts more than 2,000 members. Other groups with similar titles have sprung up across the country, including in Cambridge and Guelph.

Members have made posts offering up grocery runs and pantry supplies products to those who can't leave their homes. 

Others have suggested activities that can be done at home while public facilities are closed and social distancing guidelines are in effect, such as online coding workshops and even telephone counselling sessions.

"Online communities are probably going to become even more important than they ever were while we're all self-isolating at home," said Taka, who added that people are using the space to check in on each other's well-being.

Abhi Kantamneni built a website to coordinate helpers in Guelph. (Submitted by Abhilash Kantamneni)

Abhi Kantamneni built the website for a similar purpose. The website features a list of volunteers who have signed up to deliver groceries and make phone calls to those in need, as well as a list of food banks and other charities seeking donations.

Although some of the coordination details still need to be ironed out, Kantamneni said he's pleased to see many people offering to help.

"It makes me feel really wonderful for living in a community that cares," said Kantamneni.

Help others but stay safe, officials caution

Jane Hennig, executive director of the Volunteer Action Centre of Waterloo Region, says those who want to help others should start by looking at their immediate community. She also said people should keep social distancing rules in mind.

Reach out to friends, neighbours and family who may be isolated — but plan to do so by phone or email, she said.

"We're really encouraging people to stay home, care for their immediate circle, whether that be family, social circle, neighborhood," she said.

When dropping off groceries and other items, Hennig also advised leaving them on the doorstep and taking other steps to avoid physical contact.

The region's acting medical officer of health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, says people shouldn't volunteer to make grocery runs or other errands if they've recently returned from travel outside of Canada. These people should be in self-isolation, she said.

Dr. Wang says people should also maintain social distancing guidelines of two metres from others while dropping off groceries and items, and wash their hands diligently.

'You can make a place feel like home'

Although their online platforms are just a few days old, both Kantamneni and Taka said they hope the communities they've formed online will continue to serve a purpose once the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

"I could absolutely see it as an online forum for being neighbourly," said Taka.

"By looking out for your friends and neighbours I think you can make a place feel more like home," said Kantamneni, who recently returned to Guelph after living in Sudbury.

"If there's one thing that we all learn from this experience I hope it's that."