New Brunswick

Edmundston volunteer 'angels' help neighbours under lockdown

A group of Edmundston volunteers has stepped up to help vulnerable neighbours during the pandemic.

Community project delivers groceries, checks on seniors, plans acts of kindness

Samantha Mayhew is part of a volunteer group helping community members during the lockdown in Edmundston. She delivers groceries to seniors. (Submitted by Samantha Mayhew)

Gertrude Michaud says the presence of a guardian angel from the community "saved her life."

For more than a month, the Edmundston senior relied on a volunteer for her only social contact under tight COVID-19 restrictions.

Michaud, 76, is a retired Spanish and English teacher who has lived alone since her partner died three years ago. Life during the first lockdown was challenging. 

"Mentally, emotionally, psychologically, it gets really, really bad sometimes especially if you can't see your family," she said.

A group of Edmundston volunteers, named "Les anges bienveillants" or caring angels, has stepped up to help vulnerable neighbours during the pandemic. They've delivered groceries and kept in touch with people living alone.

Now, as the region begins a second lockdown, the group is expanding to more acts of kindness and preparing for growing calls for help.

Michaud's "angel" would go grocery shopping for her and pick up other essentials. Then they would talk from a distance through the screen door.

"I'd open the little window a crack and we'd talk for a while," she said. 

"It's good talking to people on the phone, but it's not the same as having a live person there."

Acts of kindness

When the pandemic started, Pierre Thibault realized many seniors would have trouble getting essentials. He decided to post on Facebook asking if people would be willing to lend a hand.

The response in the comments was overwhelming.

With a large group of about 35 people, the Les anges bienveillants has expanded beyond grocery deliveries.

Pierre Thibault, centre, helped organize les Anges bienveillants at the start of the pandemic. The volunteer group is helping out community members during the second lockdown. (Submitted by Pierre Thibault)

The team began pairing volunteers with people living alone to talk over the phone. They received donations from local businesses to buy gifts for them.

Each time there's a snowfall, Thibault and some volunteers will head to the Edmundston Regional Hospital to clean snow off the cars of healh-care workers before the night shift ends. It's an act of appreciation for those on the front lines of COVID-19.

"I'm really, really happy that I was able to get all those volunteers together," he said.

Thibault said his team has benefited from the project nearly as much as the clients. Many people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic found a renewed sense of purpose through giving back.

"I remember a lady saying: 'Pierre, this saved me,'" he said.

Each time there's a snowstorm overnight, volunteers will remove the snow from cars in the parking lot at the Edmundston Regional Hospital. It’s an act of appreciation for health-care workers during the pandemic. (Submitted by Pierre Thibault)

Some clients have given donations to the angels, which were used to make two $500 gifts to non-profit organizations in Edmundston.

The success of the project has caught the attention of other municipalities looking to replicate it.

'Lifeline' for seniors

Michaud said the angels have been a "lifeline" and give her comfort during the second lockdown.

"They help us stay human, realize we're still alive and we're still part of the community even though we can't go out and speak to the rest of the community and touch them and say hello," she said. 

Samantha Mayhew has been volunteering with the project since April. 

She goes shopping for vulnerable people at the local grocery store, and said people are relieved to have some certainty during a time of many unknowns.

The volunteer group received donations from grateful clients and passed them along to non-profit organizations, such as the Edmundston food bank. (Submitted by Pierre Thibault)

"When I saw the smile on the first lady's face, my first customer's face, I thought to myself, 'Wow, I have to continue doing this,'" she said.

One of Mayhew's delivery clients is her former English teacher, who she chats with from outside the house.

Orders slowed down over the summer as the situation improved, but some volunteers continued to help throughout the year. The project has delivered about 250-300 total grocery lists.

"Especially our senior citizens, our most vulnerable citizens are afraid again and they don't want to get sick," Mayhew said. "So I'm hearing they do need our help again and we're just glad that we're able to be there for them."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandre Silberman

Video journalist

Alexandre Silberman is a video journalist with CBC News based in Moncton. He has previously worked at CBC Fredericton, Power & Politics, and Marketplace. You can reach him by email at: alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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