It started last Friday, as the world was finally beginning to wake up to the global threat posed by COVID-19.
Five Vancouverites began talking about how they could support their communities and offer mutual aid throughout the pandemic.
It led to a conference call, which turned into a seven-hour discussion and meticulous planning for what’s evolved into a public Facebook page called “COVID-19 Coming Together (Vancouver).”
In less than a week, the page’s membership has soared to more than 21,000, which took Avery Shannon, one of the founders of the group, by surprise.
“We knew that there was an urgent need in the community, and knew that we would probably get multiple thousands [of members], but we didn't anticipate getting such a quick uptake in the group membership,” Shannon said.
The space is designed to allow members to share relevant information and post direct requests for help, whether it’s for material items, which they can’t get themselves because they’re self-isolated or have disabilities, or for out-of-stock goods they need. Others are offering services or assistance.
“COVID-19 is really creating unprecedented interruption to our day-to-day lives and poses a threat to many of our community members, especially those who are more vulnerable — those who are facing multiple barriers in society, such as homelessness, such as poverty, such as being disabled, and for senior citizens,” explained Shannon, who lives in East Vancouver.
“We really wanted to find a way to connect people and let them access resources and community and mutual aid.”
More than 30 people now work behind the scenes managing the page, as well as organizing spinoff initiatives such as political work like lobbying the federal government to provide more aid. Another team is working on outreach, connecting to organizations such as Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, the Vancouver Tenants Union and the Single-Room Occupancy Collective to ensure their members are getting the assistance they need.
Strict guidelines outline what can be posted so the page isn’t filled with spam, misinformation about coronavirus, or flooded with unrelated messages.
While the effort to launch the group has been significant, those involved don’t mind.
“When we were formulating this group, and planning out what it could look like, I think we all felt very relieved to be able to channel our energy and our efforts into something because the city is really shutting down in a way that we've never experienced before,” Shannon said. “We knew that other people were probably feeling very similarly and we wanted to provide a platform for community to come together.”
Although it’s a Vancouver group, some members live as far away as Abbotsford. Residents from other municipalities have also been inspired to start sister groups.
“It's not just acts of kindness that people are providing. It's a real demonstration of social solidarity and people recognizing that now is the time to radically band together,” Shannon said.
The Facebook page can be found HERE.
Organizers also launched a gofundme campaign MArch 19 to help people meet immediate needs before the government's emergency care benefit package kicks in in April. It can be found HERE. In the first half hour it raised more than $11,000, with an initial goal of collecting $100,000.
"This will go a long way towards helping those most vulnerable in our community," Shannon said.