TORONTO — Ontario's volunteers and small businesses are rising to the challenge and helping seniors and other vulnerable people during the COVID-19 outbreak. Thousands of people are generously giving their time and resources to make and deliver food, run errands, and check in on those who are self-isolating.
Today's update was provided by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction.
"Over the past few weeks, I've been moved by hundreds of stories of people reaching out in selfless acts of kindness to help those most in need," said Premier Ford. "It's that Ontario spirit that is giving us the strength to pull through these tough times. If you have some spare time, I encourage you to sign up and volunteer because we are all in this together."
On April 9, the government announced it was investing $100,000 in its partnership with SPARK Ontario to support the province's first bilingual volunteer hub connecting volunteers with community organizations that support vulnerable Ontarians. To date, the response has been tremendous:
- Over 54,000 users have visited the SPARK Ontario website to learn how they can volunteer;
- Over 3,500 civic-minded Ontarians have signed up on the site to volunteer, and over 3,100 have contacted community organizations regarding a volunteer opportunity; and
- 141 community organizations have registered for volunteer matching and more than 100 COVID-19-related volunteer opportunities have been posted online.
Today, volunteers are supporting seniors, people with disabilities and others in need as they stay home during the COVID-19 outbreak with food delivery, shopping for supplies, running errands, providing remote mental health and crisis support, and tutoring kids.Volunteers are also mentoring seniors on technology to ensure they are connected online, as well as providing mental health support to both seniors and people with disabilities by writing letters and poems.
The government has partnered with the Older Adults Centres Association of Ontario to help implement the Seniors Centres Without Walls model of programming, where isolated seniors can participate in group programs over the phone. As of April 30, 2020, 35 programs have begun running in their communities.
"Although it is critical for our most vulnerable citizens to self-isolate in order to stay healthy and safe, the lack of social interaction can be extremely difficult," said Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. "SPARK Ontario's volunteer hub provides a helping hand and reassurance that they are not alone. I congratulate the thousands of Ontarians who have stepped up to volunteer at this challenging time."
"As I connect and host virtual roundtables with small businesses across the province, I'm also hearing about the tremendous generosity of our small businesses and the many ways they are giving back to their communities," said Associate Minister Sarkaria. "In so many remarkable ways, these local heroes are demonstrating the Ontario spirit. As part of the Small Businesses, Big Hearts initiative, we want to highlight these acts of kindness. Please reach out to me to share the positive news!"
Through the new Ontario Community Support Program, the province is working with the Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA) and their large volunteer base to increase Meals on Wheels food deliveries and deliver essential supplies to isolated, low-income seniors and people with disabilities and chronic medical conditions. More than 500 meal referrals and nearly 2,000 essential supply referrals have been made since the program launched in mid-April.
- The Ontario Government invested $11 million to implement the Ontario Community Support Program. This is in addition to the $20 million over two years the province has invested to protect seniors in retirement homes through increased infection control and active screening procedures.
- The province has also doubled Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) payments for low income seniors. Individuals will receive up to $166 per month and couples will receive up to $332 per month. These doubled payments will continue for six months and provide an additional $75 million to 194,000 vulnerable seniors who may need more help to cover essential expenses during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- To identify a Meals on Wheels provider in your local community and request service, visit www.ontariocommunitysupport.ca.
- Seniors, people with disabilities, and others in need of assistance can connect to essential services in their community by visiting www.211ontario.ca or by dialing 211 or 1-877-330-3212 (toll free). TTY service is also available by dialing 1-888-340-1001.
- The new COVID-19: Tackling the Barriers website enables businesses to submit details of any potential regulatory roadblocks as we navigate these uncharted economic conditions.
- To take part in the Small Businesses, Big Hearts initiative and share a story, please reach out to the Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction at [email protected].
- For information and resources for Ontario businesses, visit ontario.ca/supportforbusiness.