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Best of Richmond: Volunteers rise to the occasion during COVID-19

Richmond Food Bank and Richmond Cares, Richmond Gives saw an uptick of local volunteers stepping up

Richmond’s community was put into disarray when the pandemic hit, but volunteers in the city stepped up to keep seniors and those in need connected.

Since March 2020, Richmond residents have delivered food, sent thank-you cards and even paid for coffee for healthcare workers to show those who are isolated and working on the frontlines that they are not forgotten.

Volunteers with local organizations such as Richmond Cares, Richmond Gives (RCRG) and the Richmond Food Bank, as well as community Facebook groups, took this as an opportunity to fill in the big shoes to keep everyone connected.

Ed Gavsie, president of RCRG, said this past year has highlighted the importance of volunteerism.

“Volunteers (help) improve lives, change lives and sometimes even save lives,” said Gavsie, adding that they continued to serve and support the community’s most vulnerable residents by transitioning to “virtual roles” during this challenging time.

“Even while staying apart, people still want to get involved in their community and there are many ways to do so virtually.”

For example, volunteers with RCRG have been connecting with isolated seniors over the phone as well as video calls to make sure they are doing well.

And these volunteers take it “upon themselves to help their neighbours in need” on their own time as well.

While RCRG, said Gavsie, hosts the city’s largest volunteer opportunity database, there is always a need for more volunteers.

“They contribute to all areas of our community, sharing their skills, talents, passion and enthusiasm so that Richmond can continue to grow and thrive. We rely on volunteers, and they deserve our utmost gratitude.”

Meanwhile, Richmond’s local food bank has not only seen a rise in volunteers helping out at their depots but also youth and families donating what they can to help those in need of food.

From non-perishable food items to plastic bags for hampers, the Richmond Food Bank received items from residents the moment the call was made, according to Hajira Hussain, executive director of the Richmond Food Bank.

“Volunteers are the backbone of our organization as well as many other nonprofits in Richmond,” she said, adding that they have “amplified their spirit of giving” to bring a sense of normalcy during the pandemic.

“It’s amazing to see how beautifully our volunteers have adapted and responded to the change in our food bank operations.”

Hussain told the Richmond News that the food bank serves more than 1,800 individuals each week in Richmond alone and the number is still climbing.

“I don’t think we would be able to do what we do without our volunteers helping out and of course those in the community who are donating what they can,” said Hussain.

She added that while they have many active volunteers at the depots, they can only have so many people working together at once due to the pandemic restrictions.

Many non-profits and organizations were able to switch to a virtual platform. However, the food bank was not able to. Instead, they had to cut the number of volunteers down to a maximum of 20 people at a time in order to work safely in a socially-distanced environment with some even working more shifts than they originally volunteered for.

“I’m super thankful for their commitment and dedication to serving the community during COVID-19 and it shows how important the community is to them by the effort they put in,” said Hussain, echoing Gavsie’s gratitude towards Richmond’s volunteers.

 “I’m truly honoured to be working with these people and their spirit of giving.”

To read the digital edition of the 2021 Best of Richmond, click here.