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Archived - In the time of COVID-19, Ottawa’s spirit of giving is alive and well

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May 27, 2020
Feature Stories

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Raynor Boutet is witnessing firsthand that the old saying is true: Times of crisis have a way of bringing out the best in people.

Raynor is part of the Human Needs Task Force the City created to coordinate community supports during the pandemic. Their role is to respond to the emerging needs of the community, especially among Ottawa’s isolated or vulnerable populations.

As Ottawa Public Health is now recommending that people wear cloth masks as an added precaution, the City is currently asking for donations of cloth masks for vulnerable residents.

We’re also accepting donations of other personal protective equipment for front-line staff. The equipment must be commercial-grade and contained in its original packaging.

There are plenty of instances though where people have supplies to donate that don’t meet that criteria, but are still in excellent condition. In those cases, Raynor has been connecting people who have items to donate with others in the community who can use those supplies.

From her home office, Raynor shared how new connections are being forged between residents, community groups, social service agencies, private companies and the City to get help and resources where they are needed most.

A brown-haired woman wearing a green sweater smiles at the camera while a small brown-and-white dog sits in her lap and looks at a laptop on the desk in front of them.
Raynor’s dog Kaos keeps her company in her home office.

Raynor, are you seeing a lot of donations of personal protective equipment and cleaning products?

Absolutely. An organization called Conquer Covid-19 has made one of the largest donations we’ve coordinated so far. They are providing 31 different community agencies with personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, face shields and hand sanitizer.

Early in the pandemic, the National Gallery of Canada got in touch to offer donations of plexiglass, before we fully appreciated how important plexiglass would be! They have been providing plexiglass to our community partners, cut to size, so they can serve their clients safely while also protecting their staff. They’ve now worked with close to 10 community agencies, including Centre 454, Caldwell Family Services and St. Joe’s Women’s Centre.

Are private residents offering personal protective equipment as well?

Yes, a lot of people are offering supplies they had in their homes. Many don’t meet the requirements of the City’s donation drive for our front-line workers, but in those cases I connect donors with others who are looking for the materials they have.

One resident had two boxes of medical masks to donate. He met up with the person I put him in contact with, and it turned out they had family who know each other from Ireland. It was like it was meant to be!

A senior resident in one of our Ottawa Community Housing buildings got in touch with me recently to say thank you for coordinating a donation of masks. He told me that for him and his fellow seniors, these masks are a godsend because they provide them the peace of mind they need to simply go out for a walk.

It’s stories like this that make the long days well worth it.

Are people offering items you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the pandemic?

The offers of food and toiletries we receive are actually a huge help as we try to give Ottawa’s homeless people and other vulnerable populations extra support during this pandemic.

Over the last month or so, Gabriel’s Pizza has donated 5,000 meals of pizza and pasta to agencies such as the Shepherds of Good Hope, Capital City Mission, the Ottawa Mission, Youth Services Bureau, Youville Centre and the Ottawa Distress Centre, to name a few.

There have also been times I’ve worked with City departments to provide supplies needed elsewhere. Staff were looking for toothbrushes and toothpaste for people staying at the McNabb respite centre, and Ottawa Public Health’s Dental Health Unit was able to get them the supplies they needed.

Hunter Amenities, a company that supplies toiletries to hotels, also made a large donation that was perfect for the respite centres. They had an oversupply, so they donated 2,000 hotel toiletry kits. Each set had shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion and a bar of soap. We got these delivered to the Jim Durrell and McNabb respite centres and other agencies throughout our shelter system.

A few community agencies supporting homeless people were also looking for socks. Through the City’s I Love To programs and Canadian Tire Jump Start, we were able get them some extra red winter socks.

Another great example is an organization called Period Packs, which has been active in the Ottawa community for the last year or so. Thanks to their donations, we’ve distributed more than 600 period packs to organizations that support women in need. Each pack contains enough products for one menstrual cycle.

We’re also coordinating a donation from Telus, the City’s service provider. They are donating 100 tablets that are going to be distributed to community partners who identified a need for technology through our Social Services Relief Fund. These tablets come with a one-year data plan, and Smartcell is donating 100 cases for them. They will be used by our community partners to provide remote counseling and other services to vulnerable communities where being able to talk face-to-face is very important.

Are you hearing about companies who are changing their operations to produce supplies that are in demand?

One that comes to mind is an Ottawa-based tech company called TechInsights, which got themselves a license to produce hand sanitizer during the pandemic with the objective of getting it into the community. So far, they have donated more than 500 16-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer to three different community agencies.

A close-up of three 16-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer with blue and white labels.

Coordinating donations must be really rewarding work. What has it been like for you?

Witnessing how much we’ve accomplished in just nine weeks is overwhelming.

It’s an amazing feeling to connect people who need help with those who can give it. I like being busy and I like getting results quickly, so I’m in the right place! Getting to see the outcome of my work and knowing that what I do is helping people during this emergency is really gratifying.

Working with the Canadian Red Cross has been especially rewarding. In addition to coordinating donations, I’ve been leading an outreach initiative to do home visits to check on residents in areas of the city where we know people may need extra support, whether it’s information about COVID-19 in languages other than English or French, or advice in terms of how to access food banks, etc. As you can imagine, door-to-door visits take a lot of time and effort. I don’t know how we could have made this happen without the assistance of Red Cross volunteers and coordinated efforts with Ottawa Community Housing.

In the background: People gather in a parking lot, wearing masks and red vests. In the foreground, a woman in a dark jacket talks to a man in a green shirt and a red vest.

I worked on the City of Ottawa’s United Way campaign for many years, but I’m still new to the social services world. I have a lot of experience in community development, but with a recreational lens. It wasn’t until this past November that I started working in community development in the context of social services, as part of the City’s Integrated Neighbourhood Services Team.

A lot of that work was about finding out what the needs are in a given neighbourhood, and where the gaps are in relation to municipal services. I would act as the link between the City and the different community agencies, and we would work together to get resources to where they’re needed. It was the perfect training ground for what I’m doing right now, and it will work the other way too. I expect that what I’ve learned about different social services around the city and the connections I’ve made with community groups will be an asset to my work for years to come.

How are you and your family coping with the restrictions in place due to the pandemic?

Our dog, Kaos, is getting a lot of attention these days. The poor thing is exhausted. We probably walk him twice as much as he needs. My sons miss their sports, so we’ve installed a basketball net in our driveway so they can still play basketball, even if the parks are partially closed. We all have our moments but we’re finding our way, taking it one day at a time.

If you are looking to donate items within the Ottawa community, but do not know where to direct your donations, you can email and Raynor and her colleagues can connect you with organizations in need.

More stories about how City of Ottawa staff are supporting the community during the COVID-19 pandemic:



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