When the pandemic hit, it became apparent that the government was unprepared to deal with a situation of that nature, and people were going to slip through the cracks, according to one of the administrators of the grassroots Facebook group, Caremongering-KW, Faith LaFleur.
“Whenever a crisis comes up, there are always people who end up being disproportionately impacted, and it tends to be people who are already less fortunate, less privileged, who have less access to resources,” said LaFleur, one of several administrators of the group.
The group, CareMongering-KW, was created in March 2020 to fill that gap.
With over 8.2 thousand members across Kitchener-Waterloo, the group has provided a judgment-free way for community members to help each other with their most basic needs, from food to transportation or pandemic-related supplies.
“We were hoping that it would be a gap that would get closed over time, but unfortunately, that hasn't been the case,” she said. “But we just wanted to do what we could to provide for the community in ways that our government [and] our local systems were not prepared to.”
Over nearly two years, she said they have helped hundreds of people -- possibly thousands. The number of requests typically increases depending on circumstances.
“So changing weather, changing COVID policies, will get more people seeking help. And I’d say at least 80 per cent of people that asked for something are able to get their needs met through the group,” she said.
LaFleur said she isn’t surprised the group has grown so much.
“Just knowing what we've had to offer, knowing people who are in positions where they need to ask for help, knowing that there's also been a massive community of people just looking to offer help as a way to get themselves through the pandemic as well, I'm actually surprised it hasn't gotten bigger,” she said.
Members are allowed to ask for just about anything, though she says they do try to limit what people offer, “to avoid having it turned into a buy and sell or giveaway page.”
“So if somebody needs furniture, because they're moving into an unfurnished space, they can ask for it. But if somebody is getting rid of furniture, we ask that they share that stuff with other groups so that we can keep offers more COVID related,” she said.
Masks, food, transportation, and more recently, rapid tests, are the most common requests in the group.
“There have been situations where people on assistance just can't afford food before the next cheque comes in, so we get a lot of food related requests. Masks, especially children's size masks are constantly selling out everywhere,” she said.
“We have more requests for rapid tests than anybody in the community has been able to fill. A lot of people, even people who are in close contact through work, their employers aren't providing testing. And they're trying to make sure that if they go back into work, that they're not going to expand the spread themselves.”
She said they’re also getting a lot of clothing requests during the winter as well, for things like coats and boots. But over the last two years, food is the most commonly needed item.
While LaFleur noted there are other “amazing” resources in the community, they don’t have the resources themselves to keep up with community needs, even prior to the pandemic, which is why groups like this are so important.
“Being able to see people saying they’ve literally exhausted their resources, and they have nowhere else to go and they're reaching out through a group as a shot in the dark, and then to see five or 10 people responding saying, I can help you … I think the impact has been pretty positive.”
One group member wrote, “this group has helped me out so much, from getting me a tent and various supplies needed to survive, to [getting me] a hotel room for four nights when it was extremely cold out.”
As the group was created as a response to the pandemic, she says they will likely close the group when it’s no longer needed. However, when that day comes, they will have an exhaustive list of resources displayed on the page for people who come looking for support, “so people aren’t left stranded.”
You can find the group on Facebook here.