‘Pandem!Ex’ Mutual Aid provides support to the isolated during time of uncertainty

Avleen K Mokha

Suspension of rehabilitation services and the closure of non-essential businesses is causing difficulty for residents of the Parc Extension communities. As the government re-organizes services to minimize transmission of the coronavirus, citizens are connecting with each other to aid the community. The Parc Ex Mutual Aid is a volunteer-led group that is assisting Parc Ex residents with the delivery of food and medicine, childcare support, and financial aid.

Rachel Shugart is a teacher and a parent of two kids. She is also the moderator and coordinator of the group. The group was started on social media as a splinter of the Montreal-wide Mutual Aid movement.

“We started a group for residents here, because Parc Ex has so much community-based mobilization already,” Shugart said.

Volunteers organize food resources.
Volunteers organize food resources to be sent to elderly and people in need. Photo: Monique Léger

Titled “PandemEx! COVID-19 Mutual Support,” the Facebook group gained five hundred members since its creation two weeks ago. “When organizations that employ staff began shutting down quite unexpectedly, people went into crisis but realized they had no one to call,” Shugart said. “As people got laid off, the amount of the help needed skyrocketed but protocols were still being established.”

Resources for food insecurity Shugart described that the need for food was one of the biggest concerns in the borough, as schools closed but food banks were still developing their response to their pandemic.

Resource Action-Alimentation, an organization that helps provide food to residents in need, announced their collaboration with Parc-Extension Youth Organization (PEYO) on March 16. The associated effort offers home delivery of meals to seniors living in isolation and food baskets for families that are isolating or in financial need.

“The collaboration has helped us get families to sign up for food with people who can deliver it,” Shugart said. “We are also helping people deliver groceries and medication to people that can’t leave their homes.”

Language barriers

The organization insists that information about the COVID-19 virus should be shared in multiple languages. Volunteers from Parc Extension are collaborating to create and distribute resources in multiple languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Greek and Italian.

“We realized that in Parc Ex just having a group on Facebook was not going to reach many people,” Shugart said. That’s why the group set up a helpline number with the aim of getting volunteers to call back in a specific language.

Babysitting and medical care

For families in isolation, a single adult going to get enough groceries is not always enough.

“Parents might need to make essential trips but not be able to leave because daycares have closed. That’s why, we offer emergency childcare especially if you can’t leave the home.”

When questioned about the protocol for volunteers, Shugart shared that the group has protocols for childcare services with consultation from members of the Montreal Mutual Aid group.

“We have shared it with healthcare and public health officials we are in touch with, to see what we can improve,” Shugart said.

Dr Juan Chirgwin, a doctor at CLSC Parc Extension in family medicine care, has volunteered to take consultations. Families a family doctor or without a way to access healthcare right now can go through the Parc Ex Mutual Aid group.

Social distancing guidelines for volunteers

The majority of the volunteers are students or young professionals, who are able-bodied. They are out of work completely or have few working hours in the day so they are able to make trips.

“Delivery volunteers have strict protocols in place at Montreal Aid,” Shugart added. “In normal circumstances, they deliver to old or sick people, so we have been able to add to protocols to ensure ways to be as safe as possible.”

Pandemic making people confront long-standing issues

When asked about Parc Ex has been dealing with changes, Shugart said that the pandemic is highlighting issues that have existed for a long time in the borough, especially over the recent years.

We are realizing that any one of us could be in this situation. All it takes is a couple weeks of uncertainty.

“Over the years, people have been worried about their child being able to finish school. They had to move far away, because their rents were increasing and they couldn’t pay,” Shugart explained, referring to gentrification measures in the borough. This is already something that has been happening. We are realizing that any one of us could be in this situation. All it takes is a couple weeks of uncertainty.”

“The most important thing is that we live in a tiny neighbourhood. Ask for what you need, and offer what you can for each other.”

This article was published on April 3 for the PX News print issue. Click here to read the full issue.