Caring in the Time of COVID-19 - New Canadian Media
Shriya Khanna, a communications specialist and “caremonger” prepares a basket of food to deliver to the elderly who can’t leave their homes because they are at higher risk of getting COVID-19. Credit: [Devyaani Datta]

Caring in the Time of COVID-19

During this pandemic, thousands of Canadians have turned “caremongering” into a social media trend. What started as a Toronto Facebook page has now become a national movement.

Canadians are finding ways to connect and support each other, even as COVID-19 is forcing them to social distance themselves from each other to limit the spread of the virus. Instead of being scared of what may come, they are showing the world how to come together through separate acts of caring. 

Torontonians Mita Hans, a social worker and her friend Valentina Harper, a baker, started the Facebook group “caremongering-TO” just a few weeks ago to sign up volunteers to help those in need, especially the elderly, people with disabilities, new moms and homeless people.

Valentina Harper

“The initiative was a call for action. In this time of crisis, we need to take care of each other,” said Harper. “We have received overwhelming response from across Canada. It is inspiring to see people helping each other out in the time of need.”

Small Acts, Big Impact

In just a few days, more than 15,000 people have signed up to be caremongers in Toronto, among them Shriya Khanna, a communication specialist who moved to Canada as a student. She was helped by locals and community leaders when she first arrived, and now sees “caremongering” as way to return the favour. She focuses on helping foreign students and the elderly because she says they often don’t have a car, and face financial challenges.

Divyanshu Datta is another caremonger. On a Friday afternoon, the lawyer pushed a cart through Walmart to shop for seniors in his neighbourhood who have compromised immune systems. Datta said he chose to get involved because his own grandfather died a few years ago and he wanted to help the elderly who are the most vulnerable to the virus.

Divyanshu Datta said he chose to help others because his own grandfather died a few years ago and he wanted to help the elderly who are the most vulnerable to the virus. Credit: [Devyaani Datta]
Harper says she’s heard many stories of people like Khanna and Datta performing small acts and making a big difference by helping those who can’t leave their homes.

“We have come across many inspiring individuals,” said Harper. “There was a person who paid a needy person’s phone bill without asking any question as the person was short on data. So many new moms have reached out for help and received unconditional support as they cannot get out of the house,” she added.

The gratitude is evident on Ahmjad’s face, a refugee from Iran. He did not want to provide his last name, but said he and wife sought help because they were reeling from depression after a devastating loss. Ahmjad said the response from Toronto’s caremongers has changed his life.

“My wife and I are struggling from the loss of our child. We got help with food and medicines. Someone even reached out to us to become friends. I will forever be grateful to those people who helped me in time of need,” said Ahmjad.

What started as a post on Facebook has now turned into a national movement. More than 40 “caremongering” city-centric groups have been created across Canada since March 14, including chapters in Ottawa, Annapolis County, Burlington, Vancouver, Halifax and Niagara. 

The Social Distancing Diva

Other Canadians are going viral for their ability to lift spirits in an uncertain time. 

Last week, Toronto resident Julie Nesrallah, who is also host of the CBC music program “Tempo”, took Twitter by storm when she posted a video of herself singing “O Sole Mio” from her balcony. The Canadian opera singer said she was inspired by an Italian Tenor who sang a Puccini Aria from his balcony to serenade his neighbours as COVID-19 forced Italy into lockdown.  

Nesrallah retweeted his video and asked the people if they wanted her to do the same. The answer was a resounding, “yes.”

“So, I put on a dress, applied some lipstick and sang my heart out.”

Nesrallah said the response to her post was overwhelming. The “balcony aria” garnered nearly 250,000 views in just three days.

“My neighbours as well as the folks on the street loved my performance,” she said. “They expressed their joy and said ‘bravo!’ Drivers honked to show support. I soon uploaded the video and it went viral.”

Nesrallah said she’s considering an encore performance. Perhaps her next balcony aria will be inspired by the caremongers in Canada.

This story has been produced under NCM’s mentoring program. Mentor: Judy Trinh

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Devyaani is a journalist and content editor based in Ontario. She writes about politics, health, finance, lifestyle and social media trends.

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