Seeking volunteers to support isolated folks down the street


Hilary Duff

The place to best live out an epidemic may be right here in Sandy Hill. Residents are finding creative, important, and sensitive ways to help others, whether they are neighbours, friends, family, or not.

At the east end of Wilbrod St., in a 17-unit condo building mostly occupied by venerable and vulnerable seniors, four younger able-bodied residents accept orders for almost any need, shop and do deliveries and errands for those who dare not go out.

There are others throughout the neighbourhood doing the same kind of thing — and you are welcome to get involved yourself in a new venture coordinating such acts of kindness.

A group of Sandy Hill residents has launched a community response team to help neighbours who may need extra support during the COVID-19 crisis. Launched on March 27, dozens of community-minded neighbours have already signed up as volunteers and the requests for help are beginning to come in.

The team has been created in close collaboration with Action Sandy Hill. Volunteers range in age from high school students to seniors to a number of University of Ottawa students looking to support their neighbours.

By calling 613-454-5633 or emailing, Sandy Hill residents can offer their help as volunteers, request support, or both. A member of our organizing team follows up on each call and email in order to review health and safety guidelines and explain the system.

Once the organizing team is clear on a volunteer’s interests and the support a person requires, neighbours are “matched” and free to coordinate the time, location, and specifics of the support needed. Volunteers are currently offering a range of services, from grocery store and medication pick-up to dog-walking to driving folks to medical appointments. Assistance can be digital, too—offering to speak on the phone with someone who is feeling isolated or lonely, for instance.

Our community response effort values inclusivity. While this crisis has seen an uptick in Facebook groups supporting community response, our team recognizes that some of the most vulnerable members of our neighbourhood may not have the knowledge or technology to access these online spaces. We hope to reach folks who may need support the most through the use of a simple telephone number and offline outreach such as neighbourhood posters and mailbox letters.

Further, our team wants to ensure Sandy Hill has the appropriate community infrastructure in place should movement restrictions become more strict.

While we’re certainly hopeful in our ability to collectively flatten the curve, our response system was designed under the assumption that Ottawa may one day face lockdown measures similar to those in several European countries. In France, for example, people are only allowed to travel within one kilometre of their home. In parts of Italy, residents must provide government paperwork in order to leave their neighbourhood for work or a health appointment.

A hyperlocal neighbourhood response will be more important than ever if such draconian but understandable measures are required.

Finally, there is no need to reinvent the wheel in times of crisis. Closer to home, our community response system was inspired by a similar approach being taken by the New Edinburgh Community Association—and members of their team were instrumental in the creation of our local line. We’d also like to thank Councillor Mathieu Fleury’s office for their support.

For more information and to request or offer support, please call 613-454-5633 or email