Sports

Hayley Wickenheiser begins personal protective equipment drive in Toronto

Hayley Wickenheiser, Ontario premier Doug Ford and an army of volunteers joined forces at a storage facility in Toronto on Saturday to collect, organize and then distribute medical equipment to front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario premier Doug Ford, army of volunteers join Canadian hockey legend to help front-line workers

Canadian Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser poses for a photograph with volunteers during a donation drive for personal protective equipment at XYZ Storage in Toronto on Saturday, April 11, 2020, amid the COVID-19 global pandemic. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

Hayley Wickenheiser can't believe how quickly her drive for personal protection equipment has come together.

The Canadian hockey legend, Ontario premier Doug Ford and an army of volunteers joined forces at a storage facility in Toronto on Saturday to collect, organize and then distribute badly needed medical equipment to front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Oh, it's amazing. Eighty volunteers from all walks of life, most people who didn't know each other since Monday," said Wickenheiser on speakerphone as she continued to work with volunteers. "Major business folks, lawyers, doctors, the Ontario Medical Association is helping. We got a truck here from Barrie that brought massive supplies down.

"Just Canadians coming together. That's just what this is. It's the grassroots."

Wickenheiser's medical training in Toronto was paused when her teachers joined the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19, so the Hockey Hall of Famer launched a social media plea for personal protective equipment last Sunday.

Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds amplified her request to his 35 million Instagram followers, boosting her call for 13,500 masks, 13,500 gloves and 1,350 chemo gowns.

Wickenheiser has aligned her PPE drive with the ConquerCOVID19 group. It's an organization of medical and business professionals that sprung up two weeks ago to find equipment to keep doctors, nurses and health-care workers safe while they treat people infected with the virus.

Ford joined Wickenheiser at XYZ Storage on Saturday morning for the first instalment of a weekly drive at the facility in the east end of Toronto. Reynolds called in to speak with Ford and Wickenheiser in a video that was posted to the premier's Twitter account.

"This ConquerCOVID team is nothing short of miraculous," said Reynolds in conversation with Wickenheiser and Ford. "These guys and girls have brought us back from the brink and my gratitude to them is pretty much endless."

ConquerCOVID19 worked with Toys R Us to get baby video monitors into hospitals, so doctors can communicate with and treat patients in isolation while conserving PPE equipment.

WATCH | Wickenheiser tells CBC's Jacqueline Doorey: 'People need connection':

The hockey great grew up in a small town but those values shaped both her athletic career and her ability to rally Canada during a pandemic. 7:56

The Wickenheiser-Reynolds request has led to a deluge of equipment to be sorted, stored and redistributed as quickly as possible.

"We're going to make deliveries right away today as fast as we can to the vulnerable populations that are really needing them," said Wickenheiser. "We want to start getting our drivers on the road. We don't want to house this stuff, we want to get it in and get it out as fast as possible."

Volvo has supplied a fleet of vehicles to deliver supplies to hospitals and health-care facilities, with Purolator and Canadian Tire also donating supplies and services. The Thistledown Foundation donated $1 million on Saturday to the cause.

Wickenheiser says she's pleased with the response from corporations and individuals alike, but says the goal is to "bridge the gap" until supplies ordered by provincial and federal governments arrive.

"We hope that we don't have to continue on," said Wickenheiser. "Our governments are waiting for shipments to help people but there's a lot of vulnerable populations or Indigenous communities that are going to need this stuff and we're trying to help out."

With files from Donna Spencer in Calgary

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