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Isolation 4 Love volunteer Victoria Huang shows off some highly-coveted supplies in the backseat of her car on March 14, 2020, in Edmonton.Megan Albu/The Globe and Mail

Some Canadians are rising to the challenge of a worsening novel coronavirus outbreak, going out of their way to be kind.

Across Canada, regular citizens have been volunteering to help neighbours, run errands and provide food. Social media groups have sprung up on Facebook to connect volunteers with those in need. Inspired by medical students at Western University, peers at a number of universities are preparing to help health workers with child care. And the owner of restaurant chain Paramount Fine Foods has promised to supply a different Toronto-area food bank every day.

Kyle Ashley, who works in advertising in Toronto, posted a sign in the lobby of his downtown building offering to provide whatever assistance he could. He hadn’t been called upon as of Sunday morning, but the tires on his bike were pumped up and he was ready to go anywhere in the city.

“It’s like a war,” he said, referring to the pandemic. “We will have bad actors, but good will come out.”

Isolation 4 Love

Michelle Zhang, who volunteers with an Edmonton group that brings supplies to people in isolation, said it formed to help Chinese-Canadians returning from Asia and facing the prospect of being kept in their homes for two weeks.

Starting with about 20 volunteers, by Sunday they had helped more than 220 house-bound residents by bringing food and staples such as toilet paper. The supplies are left outside for those in quarantine to retrieve, eliminating the risk to volunteers, who are then reimbursed by e-transfer.

“Fourteen days, we know it’s hard,” Ms. Zhang said in a phone interview. “We want to use a positive way to encourage people to [practise] social distancing and slow down the spread. We hope we can be the role model, encourage people from other communities to do the same.”

Their volunteer ranks have swelled to more than 100, including some people who had been helped by the service while completing their quarantine. But not before marking the occasion.

“Once you finish your 14 days, we will celebrate together,” Ms. Zhang said.

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On Facebook, pages dedicated to connecting volunteers with those in need have proliferated across the country. One dubbed CareMongeringTO, in Toronto, has a huge number of participants offering their services.

“It’s important during times like this, that we stick together as a community,” Sabrina Manicapelli, who works in the hospitality industry and posted an offer to anyone at higher risk of the coronavirus, said in an e-mail exchange.

“I wanted to give a helping hand to those in my community and this group seemed like one way to start doing that. Everyone knows someone on Facebook.”

On Sunday the site had a lot more people offering services than asking for them, but some of the requests that were there offered touching windows into life in quarantine.

“My six-year-old sister, as one would expect, is having a difficult time understanding the reason behind the quarantines and social distancing and is getting awfully bored at home,” wrote one person. “I was wondering if anyone has any craft supplies sitting at home collecting dust that they would be willing to donate.”

Students giving back

Yashoda Valliere, a medical student at Western University, was with her classmates Saturday, kicking around ideas about how they could help during the outbreak. They decided the best way was to take some of the load off local medical workers dealing with the pandemic, helping them with child care or other needs during March break.

The details of the program are still being worked out and the students stress that their priority is safety, saying that they are seeking guidance from public health experts on how best to proceed in an evolving situation.

Word has got around, though, and by Sunday afternoon they had 14 people looking for help, and about 70 students ready to assist. The idea has also started to go national, through the Canadian Federation of Medical Students, as people at other universities begin to set up similar efforts.

“As medical students, one of the skills we’re taught … is not only the science and the medications but also how to be leaders and how to be a resource to our community,” Ms. Valliere said. “For everyone in the community there are opportunities for us to help each other. You know, social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation.”

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