After 40 years of providing support to some of the community’s most vulnerable people, Oak Bay Volunteers Services had to hit the brakes and re-evaluate its services in the face of COVID-19.
It’s a challenging time for an organization whose mandate is to mitigate the effects of isolation for seniors and people with disabilities, the very population that COVID-19 threatens most. In short, the onset of the novel coronavirus and B.C.’s sudden shutdown two weeks ago forced the organization to cancel all but the critical appointments for its 200 volunteers (many of whom are retired and are sheltering in place) and the 500 senior residents they help get groceries and deliver to appointments.
”Now we need to reach out to more people who might have had connections, who were able to get out of their home but now they can’t,” said executive director Renee Lormé-Gulbrandsen. “Now is the time that we need the community to step up with donations and also as volunteers.”
Revamped and ready, the agency is recruiting a new pool of volunteers with a new mandate of service, mainly a new volunteer base for shopping and delivery.
Traditionally, services included driving to appointments or the grocery store, visiting, walking or wheelchair pushes, reading and writing, phone call greetings, preparation of simple income tax returns, minor repairs and gardening.
Fortunately, while the agency had to cut all but the most critical services they also had clients cancelling their calls for service out of caution.
“We actually saw doctors canceling appointments and clients withdrawing the meetings,” Lormé-Gulbrandsen said. “It seemed to work out OK, we reached out to high-risk clients to make sure their needs were met, with a continuity of care for those clients with critical health needs.”
The community also stepped up, with family checking on family and neighbours checking on neighbours, which really eased the burden, Lormé-Gulbrandsen said.
“We are thankful for that. It gave us time to set the office up remotely while we worked behind the scenes to recalibrate the effort.”
That said, there was plenty of demand for Oak Bay Volunteer Services plus some misinformation about their role.
“We have a great relationship with mayor and council but we don’t work for them, we are independent,” Lormé-Gulbrandsen said.
“At this point we are a week from being able to deliver services and in the recruitment stage for volunteers,” Lormé-Gulbrandsen said. “Afterwards, when this [pandemic subsides] we’ll be back to serving people as normal.”
Due to COVID-19 the organization has a major need for volunteers under 60.
Volunteers will need to maintain separation from clients and will shift social meetings to social phone calls, and drives and visits are being pulled back. Shopping for groceries and medication remains crucial but will be done by delivery instead of by accompanying the client. They also need donations.
“We’re in a great place, excited to do this for people,” Lormé-Gulbrandsen said. “In a lot of ways it’s like developing a brand new organization from one that’s been running 40 years. Oak Bay has always stepped up with donations and now is the time we need them to do it again.”