More than a thousand volunteers sign up to support Toronto’s seniors during COVID-19

The need to practice physical distancing during these uncertain times means that many seniors are facing challenges accessing essentials like medications and groceries. Stay-at-home protocols combined with long lines at grocery stores and pharmacies have a disproportionately negative effect on seniors and other vulnerable populations in Toronto.

Enter UHN’s OpenLab, an interdisciplinary team with the goal of finding transformative solutions to improve the health of Canadians. Already involved in projects that assist seniors to live more independently, the OpenLab team realized that Toronto’s senior population needed urgent help.

On March 13, UHN’s OpenLab launched the Friendly Neighbour Hotline, a program to support vulnerable seniors by delivering groceries and household items. The hotline, which is focused on supporting seniors living in Toronto Community Housing, relies on the help of volunteers to staff phone lines, communicate with seniors who need assistance, triage orders and provide deliveries.

Dr. Howard Abrams, an internist at UHN and Director of OpenLab, says the response from volunteers has been incredible.

“It has been so uplifting,” says Dr. Abrams. “To see Torontonians come together during such a difficult time is really impressive.”

Within a week of the launch, they had more than 300 volunteers. Now they have 1,300. They come from all walks of life, from firefighters to high school students, off-duty frontline healthcare workers to office workers at home, all looking for a way to contribute.

Volunteer applications are screened to ensure the safety of the volunteers and confirm their ability to empathetically work with at-risk populations.

In addition to deliveries, volunteers are going above and beyond to cheer up isolated seniors. One volunteer drew pictures with their kids and included them in the bag of groceries while another brought flowers to gift to the seniors.

The recipients are very grateful for the support. When a woman called to discover that she qualified for the hotline’s services she was relieved, stating that she had been looking for help for two weeks and OpenLab was the first to say yes.

Another recipient of the hotline told volunteers that her delivery saved her life and the Prime Minister should be told about their work.

The hotline is more than just a delivery service, it’s a way for seniors to connect with their community. These dedicated volunteers make that connection possible.

More than 2,000 deliveries have been made with 1,500 calls coming in to the hotline each week. Vulnerable seniors in our communities need help, and volunteers are making it happen.

OpenLab would like to be able to field more calls and provide even more deliveries, but to continue they need financial support. They rely on government grants and private donations to fund their projects and they need help now more than ever. To support the Friendly Neighbour Hotline, please visit their fundraising page.

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