Home care volunteers ramp up for COVID-19 relief

By Isabel Terrell  

As home care organizations continue to provide critical services to help keep people safe at home and out of hospital, volunteers at VHA Home HealthCare (VHA) are helping out in new ways amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization’s regular volunteer activities serve some of Toronto’s most vulnerable communities through hoarding support services, child and family services and at-home ESL tutoring programs. When physical distancing measures came into effect in March and these programs were temporarily halted, the organization’s volunteers were in search of other ways to make a positive impact.

With so many areas of health and community care in need of support, VHA quickly identified a variety of areas that volunteers could take on. Some volunteers are gathering grocery essentials for clients in need.

“In a time where the world feels so lonely, it is so rewarding to reach out to someone who could use a little extra help,” says Heather Chagnon, volunteer.

Chagnon volunteers in Hoarding Support Services and recently started dropping off groceries when a client of VHA’s Child and Family Services program reached out. Her newborn child was allergic to all the baby formula she had and she wasn’t sure what to do. Chagnon stepped in to find the right formula and deliver it, keeping the mother and baby safe at home.

“It’s an anxious time for many, especially for those who are caregivers,” says Chagnon. She has also helped other clients through VHA’s Simple Comforts Fund, a financial support the organization makes available for care providers to purchase products and services for clients in need of urgent assistance who have limited or no access to funding. In April, funds to support the grocery delivery program were donated through the United Way Greater Toronto Local Love Fund, an emergency fund for COVID-19, allowing this essential assistance to continue and grow.

Chagnon also calls clients who live alone each week to check on them and help them feel connected during this time when social isolation can be challenging for so many.

VHA Home HealthCare is a is a not-for-profit, charitable organization that offers 24/7 health care and support services across seven Local Health Integration Networks across Ontario. Its team of professionals includes nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, personal support workers, home support workers, cleaners, social workers, dietitians, and speech-language pathologists. The organization is also a founding member agency of the United Way Greater Toronto.

Some volunteers are also involved in delivering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for front line staff – an initiative that helps hundreds of Toronto-based health care workers continue to provide essential care to vulnerable clients each week.

“I’ll look back on this time and know that I did the best that I could,” says Clara Moroch, a Child and Family Services volunteer alumni who is once again working with VHA to deliver PPE. Clara is also hand-sewing cloth masks to contribute to the organization’s PPE drive and is keen to help during this crisis. “If I can help out in any way, I think doing anything is better than nothing.”

These new volunteer initiatives don’t only help vulnerable clients. They also give volunteers, many of whom are experiencing sudden unemployment because of COVID-19, a fulfilling way to spend their time and stay connected.

Pre-pandemic, volunteers already meant the difference between isolation and social and community connection and improved mental health, says Dawn Ashford, VHA’s Volunteer Coordinator.

“Now, they bring their passion and dedication to the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 as they nimbly adapt to changing needs in our community.”

Isabel Terrell is a Communications Specialist at VHA Home HealthCare.