Before the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, the department manning a seniors’ helpline at WoodGreen Community Services would receive at least 40 calls a weekend from elderly people seeking help. Just days after stay-home measures came into effect, the number jumped to more than 300.
“It was overwhelming. We’ve had to staff up and re-deploy our staff. We’ve had to develop new areas of service or programming that didn’t exist before,” said Michelle German, WoodGreen’s vice-president in charge of equity and strategy.
WoodGreen, one of the largest social-service agencies in Toronto, has provided services to thousands of people across the city for more than 80 years. Its seniors’ care program normally helps seniors get connected to their primary healthcare providers or organize a crisis intervention from a social or personal support worker.
But during the pandemic going into the sixth week, seniors are mostly calling the centre in hopes of getting some groceries while they’re in isolation, said German. A few of the callers also express concern about possibly having contracted the virus and needing an assessment, and others ask for help figuring out how to access government benefits.
The surge in food demand has propelled WoodGreen to launch the COVID-19 Commitment Challenge, an effort to raise enough funds to buy and deliver groceries to seniors in various parts of the city.