With social distancing keeping employees and volunteers at home, many Montreal organizations that help the needy are struggling through the COVID-19 crisis.
But Volunteer West Island, a group that pairs volunteers with various community groups and provides its own programs to the needy, is still doing what it can to help its community.
“We had to make some drastic changes,” executive director Lynda Barrett explained.
“Our Meals on Wheels kitchens were closed but it affects everybody a little bit.”
Social distancing, to slow the spread of the COVID-19, means volunteers can’t gather in groups, especially to cook the meals at the group’s 13 Meals on Wheels locations across the West Island. So staff at the kitchens had to adapt.
“Instead of actually preparing meals and delivering them, a good majority have figured out how they can share the shopping services among each kitchen,” Barrett said.
She explained that volunteers now bring groceries to seniors, and on top of that, other volunteers are dispatched from the group’s office in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue.
“The critical cases are being referred to us and we’ve deployed about a hundred volunteers now, which we’ve divided into five sectors of the West Island,” she told Global News.
She added that for those shut-ins who are less autonomous, donated frozen meals are also delivered, along with groceries, and the need is growing.
“You’re talking about maybe 40 people last week. This week we’re up to about 70 and next week we expect it’ll be a lot more,” she pointed out.
Barrett insisted that those making deliveries will observe social distancing protocols, pointing to small paper bags each containing gloves, hand sanitizers and plastic bags that are given to the volunteers.
Each client is called to notify them that a delivery is about to be made. The groceries and frozen meals are then left at the clients’ front door and the delivery person notifies the senior.
That’s what volunteer Chantal Gauthier said she does.
“Everytime I go to somebody, I have a new pair of gloves to put on, and when I come back to my car I take it off before I get into the car, and do the Purell stuff,” she laughed, “and then put on a new pair of gloves.”
She said the process can be impersonal.
“They wave to you in the window, which is a little sad just to not be able to talk to them.”
But she stressed that the protocol is necessary. Community programs coordinator Terry Aitken agrees.
“It’s a time-consuming environment that we’re gonna be working in,” she smiled, “but it’s all for the benefit of the seniors, and of course the volunteers.”
Barrett hopes the crisis doesn’t last long, but she believes they can continue to serve.
“If the volunteers are willing to do it, we can manage,” she smiled.