A little giving goes a long way: what local experts are saying is the best way to help.

We Are In This Together, COVID-19 Edition

How can we help the helpers?

People respond to stress and fear differently. Panic mode can bring out the worst in us. But around the world, we are also witnessing inspiring examples of how crises can encourage the best of humanity to shine. From singing together on balconies in Italy, to free online concerts and virtual yoga, to grassroots community support groups, people around the world are reminding us of the importance of community – even, and especially during isolation.

The urge to step up and help others in extraordinary times like these is admirable, and a critical piece in getting humanity through challenging times. Being part of the solution also keeps us sane, because during uncertain new realities, it gives us a sense of control and purpose.

However, it is critical not to get in the way of agencies who have the infrastructure, resources, and safety protocols in place to provide aid without compromising public health. A key lesson I’ve learned from Dr. Bonnie Henry is this: we need to let professionals do their work. We need to get information directly from authorities, and do exactly what they say. Likewise, in Kelowna we are fortunate to have seasoned pros in our non-profit sector. They need our support more than ever, but we must allow them to lead.

I emailed a number of Kelowna’s non-profit agencies and asked how we can “Help the Helpers” in a way that is effective and efficient without compromising their efforts.

Here’s what I heard:

Support the Central Okanagan Community Food Bank

Every agency I spoke to indicated how important the COCFB is for supporting their work and their clients. While no agency acts as one umbrella to manage the many non-profit efforts in our area, food is a universal need. With economic disruptions and job layoffs, more people than ever will rely on their services.

This inspires an urge to empty our pantries, and join the Costco lineup to purchase goods to donate. However, the food bank already has a streamlined supply chain for purchasing and distribution. Because of direct relationships with wholesale suppliers, for every dollar donated to the foodbank, they can supply $3.00 of food. Purchasing direct is the most effective way for them to sort, warehouse, and distribute groceries. You can donate online from the safety of your bed.

The food bank has a large warehouse, a drive through pick up system, and years of experience, so they can manage small teams without compromising social distancing measures mandated by authorities. If you are in good health, join their team of volunteers.

Visit their website for more information: Central Okanagan Food Bank

Support the Kelowna Salvation Army

Kelowna’s Sally Ann is set up to provide relief in a number of ways, including offering hot meals every day from their mobile vehicle. These meals are now available daily at 551 Recreation Avenue from 5:30-6:30 pm. The KSA also has a food bank, which is already facing scarcity concerns. Consider making an online donation or becoming a volunteer.

Visit their website for more information: Kelowna Salvation Army

Support Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels is “a non-profit organization providing a hot meal delivery service available up to 3 times each week in Kelowna, Rutland and the Westside. This service is available to shut-ins due to physical or mental disabilities and seniors.” They are already serving those at high risk of COVID-19 infection. Donate online or enlist as a volunteer.

Visit their website for more information: Meals On Wheels

Support HOPE Okanagan

HOPE outreach “builds relationships with women working and/or living on the streets”. Their regular outreach efforts have been scaled back to protect staff and clients, but they are still putting care packages together to deliver to women sheltering outdoors.

Due to health recommendations and diminished staffing resources, shelters must limit the number of clients and volunteers entering their facilities. As a result, many are without the ability to self isolate and lack access to soap, running water, and other essentials. HOPE will work in small groups to put packages together and deliver to shelters and unhoused women in need. Just this week, founder Angie Lohr helped a young, 12 weeks pregnant woman return to her family in Regina after finding herself unable to access a local shelter bed or able to afford a plane ticket on her own. In Lohr’s words, “HOPE has no fear”.

Hope needs donations of the following: womens’ warm coats, mitts, gloves, socks, new make up, feminine hygiene products, individually wrapped candy or chocolate, toiletries, and other items on their online wish list. Online cash donations are welcome, and they are always looking for volunteers. Call: 250-864-0399 or email info@hopeokanagan.com.

Visit their website for more information: HOPE Okanagan

Support Metro Community Church

Metro has a mission to serve people in Kelowna at risk of, or currently experiencing homelessness. Their operations and services have also scaled back to respect current health recommendations. However, they continue to offer supplies and support to those in need. They are seeking donations of supplies (packaged soft snacks such as Nutri-Grain bars, hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies/disinfectants, etc). If you are interested in giving in this way, please email lukas@metrocommunity.ca to organize drop off of supplies. Online donation will go a long way as well.

Visit their website for more information: Metro Community Church

Support Seniors Outreach & Resource Centre

This non-profit society provides support that helps “aging, isolated seniors to maintain their dignity and independence, and to stay connected to their community and each other.” They provide a variety of critical services including grocery delivery, medication pickups, assistance with paperwork, and emotional support over the phone. Their clients are at particular risk, so they are taking extra precautions to ensure their work is done without compromising the safety of their clients or staff. Currently, their senior clients have a pressing need for donations of hand sanitizer. Consider donating online or contacting them about volunteer opportunities. Applications can be sent to: linkedtogether@seniorsoutreach.ca

Visit their website for more information: Seniors Outreach & Support Centre

Donate Blood

It’s in you to give! With so many individuals self-isolating, Canada’s national blood bank reserves are alarmingly low. Health authorities have paused elective surgeries, but we can’t cancel accidents, cancer treatments, or unexpected health emergencies. If you meet the requirements for donation, make an appointment to donate today.

Visit their website for more information: Canadian Blood Services

Put your Cape Back On

If you are a retired health care worker or front line community support worker in good health, consider coming back to work. Doctors of BC has made the “extraordinary” decision to call recently retired doctors back to the province to support our healthcare system.

Many social services agencies are dealing with low levels of staff and volunteers, which limits their ability to provide support to vulnerable members of our community. Recently the John Howard Society Okanagan published an urgent call for essential services staff, such as support workers and cleaners.

If you are laid off from work, and are a low COVID-19 risk, keep an eye on the local job boards for recent and urgent hiring needs. If your credentials like Food Safe need updating, use your time at home to get recertified for any online courses you need to answer the call.

Give a Little Bit

When you first heard about COVID-19 did you run out and panic shop? Do you now have a skid of toilet paper in your garage you feel sheepish about? Perhaps your plans to go road tripping, camping, or music festival hopping have been put on hold, and you have a supply of hand soaps, gloves, toilet paper, non-perishable goods and other items gathering dust? Put them in a clean grocery bag and donate to any agency accepting those items such as the above.

Give away your surpluses if you have them and “help the helpers” like the Food Bank or check with the non-profits listed here.

Sign Up!

Agencies need volunteers, but may not have capacity to respond to inquiries in a timely fashion, due to overwhelming pressures on their resources. Volunteer and staff orientations take time, and may not be possible right now due to social distancing requirements. If you are able and willing to volunteer, but don’t know how to be of service, add your name to this local sign up sheet. Your information will be shared with established relief agencies so they can pull in volunteers from this shared database, if, and when they need you. Kelowna COVID-19 Mutual Aid Sign Up Sheet.

Additionally, there are a number of local Facebook groups you can join to ask for or offer support, advice, make new friends, or connect with someone if you are feeling isolated.

Self Care

“Put your own mask” on before you help others. Well, save the actual masks for health care professionals, but make sure you check in with yourself before rushing to the aid of others. Make sure you are prioritizing your personal health, and the immediate needs of your inner circle.

Reach out if you need to and ask for help if you feel overwhelmed, or alone. If there isn’t someone in your inner circle you feel comfortable talking to, there’s qualified professionals in place for this reason:

  • Kelowna Crisis Line (24 hr): 1-888-353-2273
  • Seniors Mental Health: 250-870-5777
  • Mental Health Line BC: 310-6789 (do not add 604, 778, or 250 before number)
  • Suicide Line: 1-800-784-2433
  • Mental Health Line: 250-868-7788
  • Kelowna Mental Health: 250-469-7070
  • Non-Emergency Police/Wellness Check Line: 250-762-3300
  • Canadian Mental Health Association Kelowna: 250-861-3644
  • Interior Health Mental Health info line: 1-800-681-2121
  • Interior Health Alcohol and Drug info line: 1-800-663-1441
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 TTY
  • Online Local Remote Counselor: Lisa Butcher

Take a break from the news and take advantage of a free streaming Yoga class from a local studio:

The resources and ways to support I’ve listed are not the only ways to help or seek help. Perhaps the best way for you is to connect with your inner circle of friends, family, neighbours, or coworkers. Perhaps self-isolation and some quiet “me” time is how you cope best.

Stay home, do whatever Dr. Henry says, but remember, this is a team effort, not a solo mission. We are in this together, Kelowna.