'A really Canadian thing to do': Volunteers step up to help the most vulnerable amid COVID-19 pandemic

Volunteer groups have sprung up across the GTA to support the most vulnerable and frontline healthcare workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

'People are very vulnerable at this point and we must step up,' volunteer says

Humaira Shami is just one of 900 people who have signed up on Facebook to volunteer for the Good Neighbour Project. (Turgut Yeter/CBC News)

As cases of COVID-19 continue to multiply in Greater Toronto, volunteer groups have sprung up across the region to support those most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, and to help the frontline healthcare workers who are busy treating the sick.

Humaira Shami, who has her own non-profit group that helps refugees, is one of more than 900 people who have signed up on Facebook to volunteer for the Good Neighbour Project. 

She recently pitched in to deliver bags of groceries from the Muslim Welfare Centre in Mississauga to a refugee from Tanzania, who was six months pregnant and had no child support. 

"People are very vulnerable at this point and we must step up and do something," Shami.told CBC Toronto.

"This is a really Canadian thing to do and Canadians are showing their true spirit."

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Tariq Syed came up with the idea for the Good Neighbour Project. Through a phone call or on social media, people can ask for help with groceries and medicine, and volunteers then go out to buy the necessities and drop them off at the person's home. 

"When I was out with my kids doing some grocery shopping, we noticed a lot of seniors who are struggling to buy stuff," said Syed. 

Volunteers at the Muslim Welfare Centre in Mississauga, Ont., fill bags with supplies to take to those who are self isolating in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. (Turgut Yeter/CBC News)

Along with Syed's project, the team at OpenLab, part of the University Health Network, created the Friendly Neighbour Hotline to help seniors living in low-income housing with food and groceries delivery. 

The idea is that seniors needing assistance can call a phone number and request help with picking up essentials. The team is in the midst of setting up the operation, and more than 300 volunteers have signed up.

Medical students offer babysitting to healthcare workers

Medical student Daniel Lee said he and his fellow students may not be able to fight COVID-19 on the frontlines in hospitals, but they can at least pitch in with some babysitting for health-care workers who are putting in long hours treating patients — and who have children at home, now that several provinces have closed schools to slow the spread of the virus.

Daniel Lee is a medical student at the University of Toronto. He and fellow students are offering childcare support to health workers called to hospitals fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Tingting Yan)

"We know that we're still learners and we're not as qualified as we need to be to serve patients on the frontline," said Lee, who is studying at the University of Toronto.

"But we also have experience as babysitters and as camp counsellors, and we've had roles like this in the past

He said more than 200 students have signed up, and more than 100 frontline health-care workers have requested help.

The majority are asking for childcare, but the volunteers are also "delivering groceries, going on pharmacy runs and other essential tasks," Lee said.

He said it's a small way to support frontline staff, including his own teachers and mentors — and that the pandemic has reaffirmed his decision to go into medicine.

"I'm honestly just so inspired by the efforts and the sacrifices," he said.

"In a time of crisis, you really need to provide all the help that you can." 

With files from Kelda Yuen and Padraig Moran