Good Samaritans helping students with supplies, computers
CBC Ottawa highlighting acts of community caring during pandemic
We hope you've enjoyed our daily positive news blog. We've enjoyed sharing these stories with you for the past eight weeks! You can still contact CBC about the amazing people and good deeds you're seeing in our community by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 26, 2020
Good Samaritans helping students with school supplies, computers
The shift to online learning has been difficult for lots of kids. Those who can't afford their own computers, or even pencils and notebooks, are finding it even tougher.
A number of charities and individuals have been pitching in to help.
Clarissa Arthur, executive director of the Education Foundation of Ottawa, has just packed 700 bags full of school supplies to give out to families in need.
There weren't quite enough scissors, glue and pencil sharpeners left in the office from the supplies the charity usually distributes, so she went shopping and packed the bags herself at her home.
"For two weeks it pretty much looked like a school supplies store, but I was really happy to be able to do it," Arthur said in an interview with CBC News.
Meanwhile, Kiwanis Clubs across eastern Ontario have been fundraising to supply 80 families with laptops so kids can keep learning from home.
"If they don't have the computer, if they don't have the technology, they don't have the ability to keep up with their peers," said Glynn Kneebone, president of the Kiwanis Club of Kanata-Stittsville.
The Kiwanis Clubs hope to be able to distribute more computers, which unlike the laptops on loan from the school boards, won't ever have to be returned.
"What's become evident to us is this divide between families who have access to technology and those who don't. It's much bigger than we anticipated in our communities," Kneebone said.
He believes the child-focused charity will have to continue to raise money to distribute computers in the future in an effort to bridge that divide.
One Ottawa computer wizard has also been distributing computers to families in need.
Justin Saunders is refurbishing old computers and giving them away for free.
"I saw a lot of people posting that they need a computer for their kids because the school is out of computers," he said.
So far, Saunders has repaired and redistributed 20 computers, only charging for parts that he can't source through requests in online recycling forums.
Saunders is on the Ontario Disability Support Program and has been in self-isolation since the pandemic struck due to pre-existing health conditions.
He says he's happy to donate his time to helping others as a way to thank his neighbours for looking out for him.
"The community has helped me a great deal, especially with my medical issues," he said. "I like to give back."
While the need for school supplies and computers is most urgent now while students are away from school, Arthur believes the situation for some children won't improve for a very long time.
"The reality is that we know children were in need before and those children are probably going to be in even more need," she said.
"And those who weren't in need before are going to be in need now."
May 25, 2020
For the class of 2020, it's virtual grads and school trips
Students and teachers across the world are having to come up with creative ways to celebrate this year's graduating classes.
At Algonquin College, one student in the Game Development Program created a graduation ceremony that took place entirely in the multiplayer online video game Minecraft.
"I wanted to do something about it, to have one last hurrah with all the game developers," said 20-year old Wesley Sweazey.
Sweazey downloaded an online map of Hogwarts into the 3D game and then invited staff and students to join him in the Great Hall via their avatars.
"I had seats set up and cake and beverages — kind of as a joke — for people to eat at the entrance, and then they sat down on the chairs and we had a few people give a speech," he told CBC News.
In true gamer fashion, Sweazey presented his peers with "Level Up" certificates rather than diplomas.
The graduating Grade 8 class at the Claude Watson School for the Arts in Toronto, meanwhile, normally celebrates the end of the year with a school trip to Ottawa.
"Every generation has basically gone. So we've been really looking forward to it and it was really disappointing, I think for all of us, that we don't get to go this year," said Grade 8 grad Pearl Zhang.
Instead, her teacher, Megan Schroeder created a virtual four-day trip. She sent each of her students an online itinerary that included visits to the interactive sections of the websites for the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum.
She even sent them the menu for Dunn's Deli on Elgin Street and had students choose what they wanted to "eat."
Schroeder said she wanted to give the students a sense that they were really seeing the city, so she also Chromecasted images of famous Ottawa monuments — like the Centennial Flame and Maman, the giant spider sculpture outside the National Gallery of Canada — from her phone onto her TV.
She then positioned her computer so it appeared to students that she was really standing in front of them.
"I think all the teachers at my school are doing a really great job in making up for what we lost," said 13-year old Zhang.
"Even though it's a difficult time we've come together and tried to figure out creative solutions to solving all of these problems."
May 24, 2020
School custodian gets the last laugh
Perry Brown has been working all alone at Berrigan Elementary School ever since it was deserted in March when the pandemic stuck.
Now the chief custodian is getting the last laugh by posting messages on the school's outdoor billboard that are designed to make the community smile.
The current post reads wistfully: "School isn't fun without u. We miss you all."
"I get to interact with the kids every single day that they're in the school. I probably get 20 fist bumps and high-fives a day," Brown told CBC in an interview.
Brown has been managing the sign's messages for almost five years, and has often posted messages of encouragement and thanks during tough times — including during the 2018 tornadoes.
Although he's currently working on some long-term maintenance and yard projects, he's looking forward to the kids' return so he can keep cracking his terrible dad jokes.
"I'm a dad without being a dad," he said. "I'm a faux-pa."
May 23, 2020
Senior 'climbs' Kilimanjaro from comfort of her own room
Mount Kilimanjaro stretches 5,895 metres above sea level in Tanzania, and one 88-year-old Ottawa woman has just "climbed" it to raise money for charity.
Anna Neufeld has been locked down in the Rockcliffe Retirement Residence for three weeks. Her son Ken Neufeld, who is Canada's former ambassador to Afghanistan, climbed the mountain when he was teaching at a girls' boarding school in Tanzania in the 1980s.
He suggested a novel project to his mother: walk 5,895 metres around her rooms at the retirement home for a total of 128,263 steps to raise money for Tembo, an Ottawa-based charity that focuses on girls' education in Tanzania.
Last Wednesday Anna Neufeld reached her goal.
"I would walk to the window and back and keep track on my hands how many times I did that," she told Ottawa Morning's Robyn Bresnahan.
Ken Neufeld emailed his mother instructions based on his memories of his own climb to inspire and encourage her, describing to her what she might be seeing on the trek and what precautions she should take.
"We were quite elated to get to the top," he said about the 1986 trip. "Of course, going down is actually possibly more difficult than going up because it's so steep, and a lot of people eventually lose their toenails from jamming their feet into their boots."
Luckily, his mother did not suffer that fate, but she did take his advice on what to do when the climb started getting tough.
"One day he talked about it being very slippery, and you stepped up one step and slid back two. And that's the day I decided to use my cane to do walking inside," she said. "Using my cane on those difficult tracks was helpful."
The family has now raised almost $3,000 for Tembo, but Ken Neufeld has more plans for his mother.
"We're going to send her on a little bit of a safari around the game park in the Serengeti for a couple of days, then I was thinking of flying her to Vancouver Island and walking her down the West Coast Trail."
May 22, 2020
Nepean teacher offers trivia sessions with a twist
When Ontario went into lockdown and school was cancelled, Nepean High School math teacher Nadia Amimi wanted to offer kids a little bit of fun every day.
She started hosting online trivia sessions on Facebook Live for seven- to 12-year olds from Monday to Friday. The twist? She dressed up in a different costume every day.
"It's just more fun, right? Every kid likes to dress up. Apparently every 50-year-old lady also likes to dress up," Amimi said.
Amimi schedules different themes that have included magicians, Star Wars and characters from books, and invites the kids to dress up, too.
While it all may seem like fun and games, she tries to sneak some math puzzles and science into the trivia questions. Amimi said by researching questions for a younger audience than she normally teaches, she's learning, too.
"I learn something every single day … and yet the little kids know it ahead of me," she told CBC News.
"This little girl said to me, 'How did you not know an octopus had three hearts, Nadia? I knew that when I was in junior kindergarten.'"
What started as something to occupy her friends' children before online learning began has ballooned into a project, with kids she doesn't know or regularly teach taking part.
Up to 60 kids a day are tuning in, and Amimi said although she's planning to wind it down soon, she can't quite pull the plug on it yet.
"I love to teach, so when I find kids who have shown a thirst for knowledge that isn't being forced on them, how can I not do this trivia daily?"
May 21, 2020
Local artist raises $10K for food bank through weekly auction
Ottawa artist Christopher Griffin has raised more than $10,000 by selling off his pieces and donating the money to the Ottawa Food Bank.
"I wanted to give back in some way, and I read these news stories about the food banks not getting the donations, but they're also getting a lot more people looking for their services," Griffin said.
"I thought, well, what I'll do is I'll auction off a piece of art each week and see how that goes."
The Every Thursday Art Auction takes place online and has been going for eight weeks. One piece, called Bison Bison, sold for $3,250.
"A lot of pieces are going for double and triple their value," Griffin said. "The prices are going crazy higher, because people want to donate. It's going to a good cause."
Some paintings were pre-existing works in Griffin's studio, while others have been painted since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
The Isolationist depicts a pelican surrounded by a polka-dot sky.
"In the past it would have been just a pattern. But now looking at it, are these different viruses? Is this the air we're surrounded by?" Griffin mused.
"I'm starting to look at my work through a different lens, and noticing things that have a little bit more relevance to the times we're in right now."
For today's auction, Griffin is selling the mylar template he used to create the concrete crow imagery for the Glebe Parking Garage in 2014.
The minimum bid for the Every Thursday Art Auction pieces is $100.
May 20, 2020
Doctor makes thank-you video with song from musician dad
For many people not being able to see loved ones has been the hardest part of being in lockdown.
Julia Buthmann is a first-year resident at The Ottawa Hospital. Her father Martin Gallop is a professional musician who lives in Germany, where Buthmann grew up.
When she heard the lyrics to his latest song — Hold me closely, even if it's only in your heart — they struck her as particularly relevant to her situation.
"The song for me represented my relationship to my family far away, and also to everything that I've been going through here working on the front lines during COVID," Buthmann told CBC News.
Although the track was originally written as a one minute commercial for a European power company, Buthmann convinced Gallop to extend and finish the song so that she could film a video featuring Ottawa's front-line workers to accompany it.
She says she wanted to make it as a thank you to the public for abiding by social distancing rules.
"I'm not just trying to praise the health-care workers, I'm trying to praise everyone because I think Ottawa has done an amazing job at managing this difficult time," she said.
Buthmann has been treating COVID-19 patients and has herself had to be tested for the illness.
"Working during a pandemic is definitely not something I ever expected to experience during my family medicine training," she said, but added it has also been a valuable experience.
"I feel so privileged and grateful that I get to be a doctor and I get to help people during this difficult time."
For his part, her father couldn't be more proud of the work she is doing.
"It makes me incredibly proud of her — sometimes a little worried too — but the overwhelming emotion is great pride," said Gallop.
May 19, 2020
Long-thought extinct, dinosaurs now walking dogs in Ottawa suburbs
It may have been a typical scene some 75 million years ago, but you have to admit that these days it's pretty weird to see a bunch of T. Rexes walking down the street.
But there have been a few sightings of dinosaurs around Ottawa these days.
So this blog went hunting and managed to catch up with some of them in Orléans.
"We just wanted to show some love and support to the community in these tough times and let everybody know we're still here and we're still strong," said Kelly Roberts, one of the dinosaur pack.
Roberts and friends Suzanne Ladouceur and Heather Stokes, an intensive care unit nurse at The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus, plan to soon "walk the dinosaur" around the hospital campus to bring a smile to patients who can no longer have visitors.
And if these T. Rexes can survive an asteroid impact and the ice age, their message is that our city can survive COVID-19.
What a dino-mite idea!
May 18, 2020
Alta Vista woman finishes first in marathon (of one)
Stacy Goldstein started training for the Toronto Marathon in February.
When the May 3 event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Goldstein had to decide whether to keep up with her training or postpone her marathon plans for another year.
"I figured I would keep going," she recently told CBC Ottawa Morning's Robyn Bresnahan.
So the Alta Vista chiropractor mapped out a route in her neighbourhood, and last week, hit the streets to run 42.2 kilometres.
Goldstein said the support she got from neighbours and friends who came out to cheer her on was "incredible".
"My first few kilometres, every time I turned a corner, there'd be someone else there with a sign [and] people cheering. And it just was so incredible to see people come out and motivate me," she said.
"There were some friends that even came out on their bikes and rode opposite me on the other side of the street, but still rang their bells and kept cheering for me to keep going."
Given she was the only racer, Goldstein said she's not sure if she technically finished first or last — but knows it was the right decision.
"I just felt love and support, and in a time that there's so much stress, I just felt this was the most incredibly uplifting experience I could ever have," she said.
"I've run other races where there's lots of people on the course — but they're not all there cheering for me."
May 17, 2020
Chefs cook for home-care staff and their patients
Some of Ottawa's top chefs have joined an initiative aiming to provide 300 meals a week to frontline workers and their patients.
Donna Chevrier, the owner of Ola Cocina Taqueria in Vanier, is one of the restaurateurs taking part.
On Thursday, she and other chefs in the Love Local Delivery group provided individually packaged meals at cost to Carefor nurses and personal support workers, as well as their clients — many of whom are elderly and isolated in their homes.
"I always want to give back. This is my home town, and there's no better time to do that than now," Chevrier told CBC Radio's All In A Day. "It also helps us get staff back into each of the restaurants."
Carefor was able to get the program off the ground through a grant from the Ottawa Community Foundation.
"This initiative will help Carefor ensure some of Ottawa's most vulnerable residents are getting fed and staying connected at this difficult time," said the CEO of Carefor, Steve Perry, in a statement. "In addition, it will give a morale boost to our home-care workers and nurses."
May 16, 2020
Woodroffe High helps hard-hit Carlingview Manor
Good neighbours help each other during times of crisis.
So when COVID-19 started spreading through the Carlingview Manor long-term care home, where 42 people have now died from the disease, teachers at neighbouring Woodroffe High School wondered how they could be of assistance.
"I've been sort of dreading it was going to happen, as we learned bit by bit in various places across the country what was happening in care homes," said English and drama teacher Wendy Gunter-Woods.
"And when it struck around the corner — we're less than a kilometre away at Woodroffe High School from these buildings — it was very upsetting, and I was wondering, 'Is there anything we can do to help?'"
The school has a long history with Carlingview Manor, from co-op students doing placements there to music and drama students performing for the residents.
Now, teachers are dropping off care packages: staff are receiving healthy snack packs, while residents get the toiletries they can no longer shop for themselves.
Woodroffe High is also planning to build some kind of memorial to commemorate those who have died of COVID-19 at the home, possibly involving woodworking students, once classes have resumed.
"There is an immediate crisis that we can [possibly] help right now, but there's going to be a longer-term thing that we could show our support for our neighbour in the future," said Gunter-Woods.
May 15, 2020
How to cope with a long-term house guest? Play musical bears
For most newlyweds, having a visitor for more than two months would be un-bear-able.
But Ottawa's Lily Zeng and Sam Snow are loving having their old friend Ray Zhou around the house.
Every week, the three dress up in bear pyjamas and record cover versions of their favourite songs.
Zhou, a musician from California, first arrived in March to visit his old college pals.
"We were thinking [he'd stay] maybe a week or two, because it really wasn't clear that things were going to get totally locked down at that point," said Snow.
"We did not foresee a border closure," added Zeng.
The trio met as graduate students at Yale University, and between them have a master's degree in music, a PhD in forestry and environmental studies and an almost-completed doctorate in evolutionary biology.
But as the soft and fuzzy "Quarantine Bears," they're now fulfilling a less-academic but nonetheless lifelong ambition.
"We finally get to be in the band we wanted to be in," said Zhou.
Zhou said the bear costumes were just part of life when he showed up at Snow and Zeng's home. "This is just what they wore in the house every single day."
Zeng said they're necessary for a long winter's hibernation.
"It was really cold — even though it's March, and April, and May, it's still snowing — and so we were singing in these bear outfits."
"It's part of the deal of moving up here as an American to Canada," added Snow, originally from Cincinnati. "I need to be sure that I'm going to be able to be warm all the time."
They offered Zhou a spare pair of PJs and got to work recording six songs, including "Stacy's Mom" — a tribute to singer Adam Schlesinger, who died last month from COVID-19 complications.
There's a fourth set of pyjamas in the house, which has allowed them to occasionally welcome special guest star Justin Bie-bear.
The group is split on their musical future, though.
"I'm not at all surprised that we started a quarantine bear band," Zeng said. "This feels pretty on-brand for me."
While she wouldn't say no to a record deal, Snow isn't so sure.
"I still feel I really enjoy the work I do as an evolutionary biologist. And I think I'll probably continue to do that."
May 14, 2020
6-year-old's care home fundraiser gets big boost
Lennox Donnelly wanted to raise $50 to donate to the Almonte Country Haven, the long-term care home where his aunt works and where 28 people have now died from COVID-19.
"I just wanted to support the staff and make everyone feel better," Lennox told CBC News.
Two weeks ago, this blog brought you the story of how he sold his homemade macramé key chains for the good cause.
After the article was published, Donnelly got a surprise when an Ottawa law firm called and offered to pitch in $5,000.
"It broke my heart," said Miryam Gorelashvili, the lawyer who donated the money on behalf of her law firm, MG Law. "The story of so many people dying in this nursing home, it was devastating."
Gorelashvili said she was so affected by Lennox's fundraising project because in Azerbaijan, where she was born, "Culturally, we take care of our seniors."
"I saw what he was doing and I was thinking, well, if this little boy can do what he can … we can probably do much better. We just have to open our hearts and do what we can."
On Wednesday, Lennox and his dad Clayton Donnelly used part of the $5,615 he raised to deliver lunch for staff at the home.
"It means a lot to us," said Cheryl Thompson, the clinical care coordinator at Country Haven.
She said the home hasn't yet decided what to do with the rest of the donated funds, but it will help staff focus on a "new beginning" and "better days to come".
"We're thinking maybe a new garden," she said. "It will be in memory of the residents we lost to COVID-19."
WATCH: A fundraising boost for aunt and coworkers
May 13, 2020
A pot to pee in: Truck drivers get a break from Cornwall company
Amid all the outpouring of gratitude for frontline workers, there is one group that Christyn Veinotte feels isn't getting as much attention as it deserves.
"It's a really scary time to be a nurse or a doctor, but I think it's a really hard time to be a truck driver, too."
She works as a service adviser at Cornwall Truck Maintenance. The company has just started handing out care packages to its customers — long-haul truckers who have been having a hard time finding food and bathrooms during the pandemic.
Among the healthy snacks, gloves and hand sanitizer in the box is an unusual gift: a portable urinal.
"With places being closed down now, it's hard to make a pee stop," said manager Cherry-Ann Dupres (above, left). "They tend to use a water bottle."
Dupres and her husband, the owner of Cornwall Truck Maintenance, said that even though it's expensive to give away what is essentially medical equipment for free, they wanted to support customers who are keeping their business going during the pandemic.
"When you have more, you do more," said Dupres. "Given that we're still getting some sort of revenue flow through the business … we just wanted to give back, because without them we wouldn't be open right now."
Veinotte says the truckers are very grateful for the portable urinals.
"They often end up having to go in whatever they have at their disposal in their truck," she said. "The first time I gave it out I was a little bit nervous. But the guy said, 'This is such a fantastic idea.'"
Truckers are telling Veinotte about how they have to stay away from their family members for months on end for fear of infecting them with the virus, and having no one to talk to because their usual pit stops are closed.
"I literally was so naive to how hard it is for them on the road," she said. "I had no idea."
May 12, 2020
Nurse raises funds for food bank to thank public for its support
When COVID-19 first struck eastern Ontario, nurse Dawn Erickson will admit she was afraid.
"At the beginning it was really frightening. We didn't know who had COVID. We were swabbing all of our patients, [and] putting on a lot of PPE," Erickson told CBC News.
The nurse at Winchester District Memorial Hospital says her husband, a screenprinter, offered to design a T-shirt for hospital staff to help build morale.
"I gave a couple to our housekeepers just to say thanks and to build team spirit and relieve the fears of everybody a little bit. And it took off from there."
Everyone from the lab technician to the CEO asked if they too could purchase the $20 #WashYourHands T-shirt with the Ghostbusters-style no-COVID symbol on the front. The morale boost worked.
"To see management wearing the T-shirts, to see housekeepers wearing the T-shirt, it really did hit home that we are all in this together," Erickson said.
The Ericksons have now sold 225 T-shirts, and have donated the profits to local area food banks. They said the donation was their way of thanking the community for all of the support its shown frontline workers.
"The public is unbelievable," Erickson said. "We have received food from restaurants … the fire department on Tuesdays comes by with their fire trucks to say thank you, our local churches are ringing their bells."
The couple has donated $500 to the Winchester's Community Food Share, and if they sell another few dozen T-shirts hope to give $500 more later this month.
May 11, 2020
Why can't teachers stop lip-syncing?
Followers of this blog will know that we at One Good Turn love celebrating all the people in our community who've been getting creative during COVID-19.
In April, we shared a video of Kingston, Ont., arts teacher Kristen Martin dancing around her apartment while singing new COVID-themed lyrics to Lady Gaga's Poker Face — now christened Can't Touch My Face.
We've also featured the teachers at Nepean High School lip-syncing to I'll Be There for You, the theme song for the comedy Friends.
Since then, we've had an avalanche of educators sharing their lip-syncing videos.
Lisgar Collegiate Institute, for instance, tried "rickrolling" its students, pretending to send an important message from the principal only to have them click on a link to teachers lip-syncing to Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up.
Meanwhile, it was Hammer time at John McCrae Secondary School, where they reminded students that during lockdown U Can't Touch This.
Staff at W. Erskine Johnston Public School and Gloucester High School both lip-synced to the 2006 film High School Musical with We're All in This Together. Educators at Goulbourn Middle School, meanwhile, sent us their version of Ain't No Mountain High Enough.
And a chorus of different teachers at the Ottawa Catholic School Board sang Lean On Me.
The pressing question for this blog is: why?
"It's simple. Music connects everyone — it's universal — and I think during this crazy time of social isolating we're all craving to feel the connection we did when we were in the classroom," said Charlotte Coates, who teaches at the M.F. McHugh Education Centre and was the co-ordinator of their version of Madness's Our House.
Renfrew, Ont., teacher Anne Lefebvre agrees. She directed staff at Queen Elizabeth Public School in a lip-sync montage of 14 different Disney songs relevant to life in quarantine, including Bare Necessities.
"For educators you build everything you do in the classroom on connection. You can't teach the three r's if you don't have connection," Lefebvre said.
"So having that severed suddenly without any warning was heartbreaking for us. We had to find a new way to connect with our kids."
Lisgar Collegiate's Lani Sommers says the humour in lip-syncing makes it a great way to reach out.
"The students really love to see teachers embarrass themselves. And now they get to see us do it at home."
Speaking of being at home, Kingston teacher Kristen Martin is still stuck in her apartment, so she sent us her version of a Michael Jackson classic, now pointedly titled I'm Bored.
May 10, 2020
Window jokes warm mom's heart — and also get a few groans
Shannon Laughlan hasn't seen her 80-year old mother in person since the beginning of March.
Instead, every day for the past seven weeks she's been visiting Mary Lunney outside the window of the dining room at the Island View Retirement Residence in Arnprior, Ont.
"In the rain, in the snow, in the sunshine, in the wind. I've been through it all," Laughlan told CBC News.
Each day Laughan brings a different joke with her to put up in the window, large enough not just for her mother to see, but the other residents as well.
"It puts a smile on her face and it warms her heart," Laughlan said, though she admits when she posts a real groaner (What did the police officer say to his belly button? You're under a vest!) her mom will give her a thumbs-down sign.
"Then you get the hand gesture: go away, go away! It's quite comical."