Volunteer Anette Akouri is part of a vital service that connects clients to help them be less vulernable. (Saanich Volunteer Services Society)

Volunteer Anette Akouri is part of a vital service that connects clients to help them be less vulernable. (Saanich Volunteer Services Society)

Saanich volunteers up the friendship calls, grocery deliveries during pandemic

Saanich Volunteer Services Society helping vulnerable residents stay happy, healthy

The Saanich Volunteer Services Society (SVSS) has worked hard to meet the needs of the vulnerable members of the community and provide social interactions amid the pandemic.

For more than 25 years, the SVSS has been connecting volunteers with residents living independently who are in need of assistance and COVID-19 has increased the need for everything from grocery deliveries to friendship calls, explained Linda Dawson Reid, social worker and client services coordinator.

The priority at the beginning of the pandemic was ensuring food security for new and existing clients, she said. “People were really stuck,” and many seniors and immune-compromised people without a support system found themselves in need of help.

The SVSS has also been delivering everything from food hampers and medications to free prepared meals through the Better At Home program funded by United Way and the province. On Nov. 26 alone, more than 70 meals were delivered to Saanich clients. The free meal program is currently set to run through December but Dawson Reid hopes to see it continue.

One service that has existed for many years but saw a spike once the pandemic began is the Friendship Call, Dawson Reid said. Since March, the SVSS received about 20 new requests for friendship calls – 30-minute phone calls between a volunteer and a client – on top of requests from existing clients.

Clients enjoy the calls because it’s “nice to chat with someone who hasn’t heard your stories before,” Dawson Reid said.

Seniors were prone to social isolation before the pandemic and now, without trips to the grocery store, the bank and other social spaces, many more people are feeling lonely. Prior to COVID-19, the SVSS offered home visits but with current safety restrictions, the phone calls are even more important, she said.

Volunteers are matched with a client based on interests and given conversation prompts for a weekly 30-minute phone chat,. For example, one client – an avid Edmonton Oilers fan – wanted to chat with a fellow hockey lover and the SVSS was able to match her with just the right volunteer, and “they have a blast.”

Dawson Reid emphasized that the SVSS is always accepting new clients and that there is currently a waiting list of volunteers hoping to be matched with someone. She is pleased to see how the community has stepped up to support their neighbours during the pandemic and hopes the generous spirit will endure.

The SVSS is always working to balance the number of volunteers and clients. Those interested in volunteering can sign up online at saanichvolunteers.org. To register as a client, call Dawson Reid at 250-595-8008 ext. 126.


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devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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