One young woman in Victoria has been using her quarantine time to help seniors combat loneliness in isolation.
Josie Gair, a teacher living near Cook Street Village, started her isolation period before most others after returning from travel abroad just as countries started closing their borders as a result of COVID-19 spreading through international travel.
Staying isolated from others was a distinct shift in routine for Gair, much like it is for many people maintaining proper physical distances, which got her thinking about how her own grandparents must be feeling.
“It crossed my mind that I should call my grandmas a little more often because they both live on their own. My staying at home all the time was such a huge contrast for me but I realized that they do that anyway,” said Gair in a phone interview with Victoria Buzz.
“At the same time we ended up being restricted from visits to seniors in care homes which is where my partner’s grandma is — normally we’d get to take her out once or twice a week. That was another shift that was seeming quite sad.”
So she decided to spring into action and create a list of volunteers who would be available for seniors to call whenever they felt lonely and wanted a chat.
Gair and her partner created a Google Form asking interested volunteers to provide their name, phone number, availability, and a short blurb about themselves.
The form was then posted on Facebook, in various COVID-19 Victoria support groups, before being shared far and wide.
Since its release, the initiative has received nearly 200 entries from volunteers on Vancouver Island, the mainland, and even Calgary where Gair is originally from.
“My project right now is getting it out,” says Gair, as there are now more than enough volunteers for seniors to choose from.
“I’m not so much looking for people to volunteer to be on the call list, but my main focus right now is just distributing it. I’m looking for people who maybe work in a care home, or someone who has an elderly neighbour that’s locked in their home, or someone who has a loved one in a care home, to find and share this list.”
Those who do choose to call someone on the list are asked to be wary, however, as the grassroots nature of this initiative means none of the volunteers have had a background check.
A disclaimer at the top of the document that contains the list provides a variety of tips for callers to maintain their safety, including ways to make their phone number appear anonymous.
“I’m just a normal person and these are just normal people looking to help,” says Gair. “This [list] shouldn’t get into the hands of someone who doesn’t have the capacity to hang up a phone call if they start to feel threatened.”
Distributing the list to care homes has proved somewhat of a challenge but understandably so, as some facilities are not comfortable with using a service that isn’t regulated while others cater to seniors who may not be able to safely use the list.
“But I have distributed to quite a number of homes throughout the city that are super keen,” she adds.
“I’ve distributed this as well to a number of individuals who want to send it to people who approach me directly and say that they know someone who should have it. And I’ve heard back from some of those people who say their family members are really loving it!”
Last month, the provincial government expanded their 2-1-1 phone line in order to connect seniors with volunteer callers as well as provide services like grocery and medication delivery.
In comparison, Gair says her volunteer call list is more home grown and therefore more informal.
“This is just a friendly call,” she says. “It might be a little easier to pick up the phone and just call one of these numbers.”
Anyone who wishes to access the volunteer call list can email Josie Gair at email@example.com.