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NEWS: ARA helps thy neighbour (Apr. 2020)

May 1st, 2020 · 3 Comments

Annex Helps Group mounts massive outreach to assist

By Nicole Stoffman

The day Toronto announced a soft lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Terri Chu dropped 100 flyers in her neighbourhood. “If, for any reason and with no judgement, you need any help, be it running errands, picking up groceries, or childcare, please feel free to reach out,” they read. 

People responded immediately, asking how they could help. At the time of writing, Chu and her Annex Help Group had dropped off 2,500 leaflets and numbered 70 volunteers.

Chu is an engineer and environment columnist for the Gleaner. She was concerned for seniors and other vulnerable residents who might not know about the Annex Toronto Facebook Group, where she first announced her offer of help. 

“My family is from Hong Kong,” explains Chu. “The kids there have been out of school since Chinese New Year (January 25) and there’s no plan to go back until the end of April, at the earliest. We were looking at the experience over there and realized it would drag on here.” 

At the time of writing, the Annex Help Group has helped two youth homes, several seniors, and a family who had recently traveled and were in quarantine. Chu arranged for weekly grocery drops at each youth home, as they are operating with reduced staff and adhering to strict quarantine rules as some residents have underlying health issues.

Volunteer Max Ackerman is in his fourth year of theatre studies at U of T Mississauga. He was rehearsing two shows and completing essays when everything was cancelled.  He joined up as soon as he saw Terri’s post in the Annex Toronto Facebook Group.

“I work in theatre and I’m used to working with other people,” says Ackerman. “I like to find ways to interact with others even though it’s not necessarily face to face. So I thought if this would make some people’s lives easier, it’s a good way to stay busy, and it’s a good way to sort of be the change that you want to see.”

The biggest surprise for Ackerman has been the number of texts and emails he has received from people saying, though they don’t require help just yet, it’s reassuring to know someone is thinking about them. 

Chu, who is also a board member with the Annex Residents’ Association, hopes that an improved emergency management plan for neighbourhoods comes out of this experience, designed in collaboration with city officials. 

“You’ve got people on the ground here who are very connected to the neighbourhood, so really this is the best place,” she observes. “But we definitely need better ways to reach out to vulnerable people.”

The need for Annex Help Group volunteers could ramp up in the coming weeks. In the meantime, it’s a demonstration of solidarity in difficult times.

“More people have stepped up to help right now, than need it,” says Chu. “So that’s been a very good feeling.” 

If you need help, or are interested in volunteering for the Annex Help Group, email terri.chu@gmail.com or call 416 433-3627.

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