U of G Community Helping Build Online Volunteer Connections

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Abhi Kantamneni works on the GuelphCoronavirus page

PhD student Abhi Kantamneni updates GuelphCoronavirus.ca

With the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting shutdowns leaving many in the Guelph community isolated, several members of the U of G community are taking to their keyboards to help.

Though they can’t meet face-to-face, they’re working online to connect volunteers who are willing to help with the organizations and community members who need them most.

Cassie Wever, who is currently on leave from the Department of Student Experience at U of G, is one of five admins for a new Facebook group called CareMongering Guelph.

The page is an online community where local residents can make requests for help with food and supplies and find those willing to offer them. It’s also a place to share experiences about the shutdowns, to exchange ideas for passing the hours, and to offer support to those overwhelmed.

The group is one of at least 35 Canadian CareMongering Facebook groups that have popped up in the last week. The idea of the groups is to be a place that is the opposite of scaremongering — where instead of spreading fear, members spread help and hope.

“There are many people out there needing support, not just with the basics, but with their mental health too. And everyday we see posts that are so thoughtful or beautiful that they make us cry.” Wever said.

Wever points to one recent post in which a U of G student wrote needing support because they were worried for their grandmother in Kitchener and needed help to get her groceries. Within a few minutes, several other members had jumped in to offer help with a food drop-off while others gave reassurances and kind words. Another member posted to say that she visits the group every day to find hope and connection.

Stories like that are why online communities are so important right now, Wever believes, which may be why the group has grown from just 100 members at the end of last week to more than 3,000 and counting.

Cassie Wever is one of 5 admins of the CareMongering Guelph Facebook group

“We are all living a shared experience, and it’s a scary one with a lot of unknowns. Many are feeling helpless, so I’m just happy to be part of something where we can support each other a little.”

Natalie Vasilivetsky, U of G’s environmental sustainability co-ordinator, has started a similar online resource.

She noticed requests for help on Facebook, while on Twitter, she saw others offering to volunteer their time. Wanting to create a way to help these people find one another, she quickly drafted a spreadsheet on her phone and shared it online.

“Within a few minutes, I could see people were viewing it, which was amazing,” she said.

Abhi Kantamneni, a PhD candidate in U of G’s Department of Geography, spotted Vasilivetsky’s creation and offered to build a website to house the spreadsheet, calling the webpage GuelphCoronavirus.ca.

The webpage features a list of food banks and community organizations seeking volunteers and donations, as well as list of volunteers who are willing to deliver groceries, or offer rides, or make phone calls to those in need.

The site has since grown to include lists of places offering free meals, mental health resources, and websites that are offering online entertainment, such as zoos with animal cams or livestreams of musical performances.

Within just a days of its launch, GuelphCoronavirus.ca has already had more than 5,000 views.

“It’s just ballooned and it’s really been community-driven. Anyone can edit or add to the lists we’ve built because we know that needs are changing all the time. While we had been worried that people might abuse it, nobody has. People are being really respectful,” said Vasilivetsky.

Kantamneni is also pleased to see “no trolls in the trenches” and that people are coming together organically to offer help.

“When push comes to shove in time of great need, people are offering this outpouring of community,” he said.

Though he and Vasilivetsky have yet to meet face-to-face, he said they are proud to be working together on this resource, knowing they have the support of the community around them.

“Guelph is a special place. Seeing grassroots initiatives like this spring up and take off makes you proud to call this place home.”