The Current

This med student can't join the frontline COVID-19 fight, so he's offering childcare to those who can

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians are coming together to set up helper groups and funds for people losing work.

Canadians coming together to set up helper groups, funds for people hit by outbreak

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

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Medical student Daniel Lee says 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.

"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 medicine 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 told The Current's guest host Anthony Germain.

Several Canadian provinces are closing schools to try to slow the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.

As a result, Lee and other students are offering childcare to health-care workers, who are being called into hospitals, but have kids off school at home. 

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

In the past 72 hours, he says more than 200 students have signed up, and more than 100 frontline health-care workers have requested help.

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

Lee says 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." 

Crowdfunded 'tips' help servers

Lee and his classmates aren't the only ones trying to help Canadians under the pressure of the pandemic.

The pace of the outbreak left Katelyn Bourgoin "feeling a bit overwhelmed and wondering what could I actually do to make a difference?"

Katelyn Bourgeon set up a crowdfunding page to help servers losing work because of the pandemic. (Submitted by Katelyn Bourgoin)

But when she saw the closure of local bars and restaurants leaving staff out of pocket, she had an idea for a fundraiser: Tip Your Servers, Nova Scotia.

"I'm trying to raise $25,000 with the idea of being able to give out 100 tips — is what I'm calling them — $250 tips to restaurant workers," Bourgoin, a marketing strategist in Nova Scotia, told Germain.

"It's a little bit to be able to take some of the pressure off, help them go out and buy groceries, but also remind them that we are thinking of them and that we're not forgetting that this is going to be particularly hard for them at this time." 

Around the world, bars, restaurants and other venues have closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency Tuesday that mandates closures province-wide.

You're not prepared for: 'What if all the restaurants close?'- Katelyn Bourgoin

Bourgoin says people have been buying gift certificates to help their favourite venues stay afloat, but she believes that profit margins in the industry mean "it's just not viable" for some businesses to support staff while closed.

Having worked in the service industry herself for years, she wants her fundraiser to help servers, kitchen staff, baristas or "anybody who makes the places we love going to."

Those workers can apply for the funding, and will be drawn at random from a lottery.

It's driven by her own experience in the industry, and the knowledge that "without tips, you know, you really can't make the ends meet."

"I just started thinking, what would have I done back then? And I wouldn't have been prepared for that," she said.

She says staff are often prepared for a slowdown in one workplace, and the need to take on a second job to make ends meet. 

"But you're not prepared for: 'What if all the restaurants close?'"

So far, her appeal has raised over $1,200 for servers in Nova Scotia. She says a friend in Ontario has set up a similar fund.

"If you're thinking about doing it for your city, you can copy and paste exactly what I've done and roll it out in your city, too." 

Online response 'overwhelming'

An Edmonton-based Facebook group is allowing people to ask for help if they're not sure where else to turn.

The group, YEG Community Response to COVID-19, was set up on Friday, and already has almost 9,000 members.

"It's been a bit overwhelming, to be honest, but encouraging to see so many people coming on and supporting each other," said Renée Vaugeois, founder of the group.

Renée Vaugeois set up a Facebook page for people in Edmonton to ask for help, and help others. (Submitted by Renée Vaugeois)

Vaugeois says many of those asking for help are limited in terms of finances or mobility, and that "mostly it's about basics: food, toilet paper, bread." 

Individual helpers have been responding right away, and some businesses have also stepped in to offer donations, she says.

In just a few short days, the group behind the page has connected with a food bank to help to distribute food to people in need (while maintaining zero contact by dropping parcels off at doors).

But some requests are for advice and information on the pandemic, or mental health support, she added.

"People are feeling the urgency and are needing a space to ask questions, get the resources they need without feeling like they're looking all over the internet," she told Germain. 

"So it's been quite a wide variety, and people are also kind of creating a bit of a social support space on there as well." 

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Matt Meuse and Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.

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